Industry News

Creating an experience at food retail is rapidly evolving

Creating a memorable experience in the grocery industry is an ever-evolving idea. Whereas several months ago shoppers looked for a wow factor or personalized product recommendations, the idea of having a superior experience in the current world climate can be as simple as a seamless checkout or friendly interaction.

According to customer experience futurist and author Blake Morgan, creating a personalized shopping experience will remain important to customers, but food retailers should also focus on integrating the latest technology, such as machine learning and artificial intelligence, in order to help meet the demands of today’s shoppers.

“The most important feature for grocery stores of the future is an experience or point of view,” Morgan wrote for Forbes. “Why do customers want to step inside your store? What makes them feel special when they shop? How can the store offer an experience that teaches and enriches customers?”

In these uncertain times, what are grocers doing to create an experience both in-store and online that keeps customers coming back?

Giving shoppers something extra

Going above and beyond both in-store and out of it has become a necessity for grocers looking to stand out. Often known for its samples, selection and customer service, Wegmans chose to pull back its store grand opening celebrations amid pandemic concerns. Due to popular demand, though, the grocer did publicize the opening date for its latest store in West Cary, N.C., but kept a heightened focus on customer and employee safety.

In order to keep everyone safe while still providing the experience its customers have grown to love, Wegmans provides a live video feed on its website so customers can see how many people are in line to get in the store, along with enhanced cleaning and social distancing measures.

Walmart is also creating unique experiences for shoppers with its virtual summer camps and parking lot drive-in movie series. Celebrities including Neil Patrick Harris, LeBron James, Drew Barrymore and Idina Menzel acted as camp counselors and offered videos covering everything from family-bonding activities to arts and crafts. The retailer’s parking lot movie series went live at 160 stores across the country with movies including “Wonder Woman” and “Black Panther.”

“Through our digital means and vast footprint of stores, we’re hoping to bring some summer fun to families across the country,” said Janey Whiteside, chief customer officer, in a news release. “We know Walmart plays a role in our communities that extends far beyond getting them necessary supplies, and we see that now more than ever.”

Even simple experiences like enhanced customer loyalty programs are setting grocers apart. Tesco recently rolled out free grocery delivery to members of its paid Clubcard Plus loyalty program, Stop & Shop introduced its digital GO Rewards program which gives shoppers points for each dollar spent online or in-store and Albertsons has plans to introduce its loyalty program to more geographical regions.

"Here's how I think about it: If you're not traveling a lot, you don't care about the airline loyalty program. When you're traveling a lot, it matters a lot,” said Albertsons CEO Vivek Sankaran during an earnings call. “And if you're shopping a lot to buy products, eating at home a lot, a loyalty program matters and it's proving out to be true."

A digital advantage

With the inevitable digital transformation happening even more quickly due to the pandemic, creating an experience for online grocery shoppers, and also using technology to enhance the experience in-store, is of the utmost importance.

In a time when shoppers value their safety more than ever, touchless checkout technology like that found in Amazon Go stores and minimal human interaction are hot commodities. In fact, Amazon is quickly scaling up the number of Go stores in its repertoire with new locations announced for Washington, D.C. and Seattle. Additionally, ALDI has put out a call to tech specialists that could help the grocer create a similar cashierless shopping experience.

Touchless checkout experiences are also being explored by Walmart, which converted a location in Fayetteville, Ark., into a self checkout-only store. Kroger, whose QFC banner is also piloting a payment process via Apple Pay, Samsung Pay, Google Pay, Fitbit Pay, contactless chip cards and mobile banking apps.

"Kroger continues to invest in innovative technologies that advance the customer experience, including our payment systems," said Kroger’s Kathy Hanna in a news release. "Providing our customers with flexibility – whether that means having the option to choose between shopping in-store or online for groceries, or how you pay for them – we are committed to personalizing their shopping trip.".

Other tech-forward experiences include Heinen’s salad-making robot named Sally, which was created by San Francisco-based Chowbotics and can make salads with up to 22 ingredients, as well as Michigan grocer the Produce Station’s rollout of autonomous delivery robots created by Refraction AI.

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