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Grocers Go High Tech

Shopping made easy and fast

Consumer-facing supermarket technologies are all about improving the shopping experience and keeping buyers happy. With intense competition and slim margins, grocers are embracing a number of technology tools to not only boost sales but simplify the process from start to finish.

Two areas of intense focus are mobile marketing and online shopping, but social media, digital coupons, mobile payment apps, and loyalty shopping programs continue to command attention. Keeping it all in perspective is crucial to success.

High-Tech = High Rewards?
“Technology is never the solution, it enables innovation,” insists Neil Stern, a partner at McMillan/Doolittle, a retail consulting firm in Chicago. “If we can help customers save time, save money, or make the shopping experience more enjoyable, it will be a win for them and ultimately for the retailer.”

There are many brick-and-mortar improvements and just as many online innovations for shoppers. Among the many mentioned by Stern are mobile apps to help find products; scan-as-you-go programs and electronic shelf tags; online ordering with either in-store pickup or delivery; traffic or store congestion monitoring; digital couponing and loyalty programs; and automated shopping list systems like Amazon Dash and Hiku.

All of these technologies can have an impact at retail. “Helping people avoid checkout lanes has benefits for both customers and retailers,” suggests Stern. “Companies like Fetch Rewards (an app for shoppers to scan grocery selections) enable this to happen and integrate couponing as well. Easing the burden of shopping is key to making future technology work.”

Mobility For The Masses
For many supermarkets, seeing the big picture means looking beyond the store to mobile marketing and social media, says Michael Sansolo, president of Sansolo Solutions in Potomac, MD. Sansolo is the director of the Coca-Cola Retailing Research Council and a former senior vice president at the Food Marketing Institute in Arlington, VA.

“The most impactful technology for supermarkets today is not in the store; it’s probably the smartphone,” Sansolo says, which continues to influence how sellers communicate and interact with customers, and how they market their products.

The term most used to encompass the wide-ranging integration of new technologies within retailing is ‘omnichannel,’ or using multiple channels to provide a seamless shopping experience whether online by computer or mobile device, or within a brick-and-mortar store.

The Produce Challenge
Because fruits and vegetables are perishable and shoppers have distinct preferences when selecting them, produce is both a great opportunity and a major challenge to implementing new technologies.

“Produce is the most dynamic part of the store,” Sansolo comments. “Because of seasonality and growth patterns, the products change all the time.” This variability produces colorful displays and plenty of selling opportunities in stores—but has drawbacks for online sales. Shoppers may be unfamiliar with some items, such as how to select or serve them, or even how they taste. This is where social media comes into play with recipes, recommendations, and forums, as well as grower or retailer-supplied information on varieties and perishability.