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An Army of One: Engaging Today’s Mobile Shopper


Mobile shopper engagement is a high-velocity challenge driven by rapidly evolving technology and cultural changes. Recent data from IRi’s Consumer Connect (April 2016) indicates that mobile shoppers want more sophisticted information — and “frills” — from their shopping experience:

  • 59% want a good selection of prepared/easy-to-prepare meals
  • 53% desire a good selection of local/artisan food and beverage options
  • 53% are looking for a variety of gourmet food and beverage options
  • 48% seek technology that makes shopping more exciting
  • 32% look favorably on stores that offer online purchase options with in-store pickup

Communicating these benefits where and how they make the greatest impression is the key — as is customizing the message right down to the individual shopper level.

To gain insights on how to develop a viable stragetic plan for mobile shopper engagement, Progressive Grocer interviewed Srishti Gupta, president of IRi’s Media Center of Excellence, during the recent IRi Growth Summit, held in National Harbor, Md.  Gupta is responsible for digital expertise, direct response marketing and analytics, and on the forefront of mobile engagement.

Pierce Hollingsworth, Progressive Grocer: The velocity of retail change, driven by culture and technology, is accelerating at a phenomenal rate. From your perspective, what are the elements of an effective corporate strategy that best adapts to mobile shoppers?

Srishti Gupta, IRi: Mobile strategies until this point have been largely “How do I take my 30-second commercial and fit it on a small screen?” Or “Everyone has an app, so I need an app” and “I need to test mobile because everyone is doing it.” This thinking was from a media perspective, though, and not from a consumer perspective, and that’s where you need to start. The whole concept of “I will create another destination for the customer to come to” is the wrong way to think about mobile with consumers, which is why many retailers have had problems.

The smartphone is a ubiquitous device that is with us at all times, and the number and intensity of interactions are very high. It gives many oppoortunities to influence, but it doesn’t mean it’s always the best medium for advertising. Consumers have this device with them all of their waking hours, so they will interact with it on their own terms, whether that’s in a browser, app, in a search, checking weather or traffic. They want less interference, so the retailer must assimilate into those situations.

PH: From a strategic standpoint, our audience is both CPGs and retailers. What would be your advice on building a strategic plan to break through this logjam? If retailers are falling behind, should they pursue a strategic shift in their thinking  adopt a new alignment and pursue tactics against the strategy?

SG: If you really simplify it, it is about who owns the relationship with the consumer. That is where retailers can be really disruptive, through mobile, much more through other digital channels. I don’t think there is full appreciation of that at this point. At the end of the day, everything we do is about owning a direct relationship with the consumer. The more retailers rely on someone else doing that communication, owning that communication or being responsible for that messaging, the less control they will have. I understand that it is a Catch-22 right now, but I do think that is not a sustainable strategy — you start to get dis-intermediated, which is a big concern. For Amazon in the last quarter of 2015, 70 percent of orders were from a mobile device, and that is huge. Now, granted, Amazon is not brick-and-mortar. But it shows how the mobile device has become the digital shopping tool of choice.

PH: If you look at the retail service area for any kind of retailer outside of fast food or foodservice, the grocery store gets the most traffic. Thus, the point you made about who owns the relationship with the consumer is a good one. So what you’re saying is that retailers must reverse-engineer relationships with shoppers to learn about their preferences without being heavy-handed.

SG: My household has three different types of shoppers. From a grocery perspective, I shop differently than my husband does. My mom grew up in India and doesn’t use a phone to do anything. We shop at the same grocery store, with three very different ways of going about it. When I think of it from a retailer’s perspective, each shopper should have a seamless experience. The shopper’s experience should be based on individual preferences. The strategy has to be consistent and across all channels, with the consumer first. That means very personalized. For instance, if you want to make a shopping list online or make a recipe that can be pulled to my digital shopping cart, that feature is essential. For my husband, the only thing that matters is the quickest trip possible, so he has to have the ability for the fastest in-and-out, enhanced by the mobile device. That kind of personalization becomes important. The good news is that it’s not as hard as it used to be, but it must be managed properly.

Location data is an example of how, based on a mobile device, you have the ability to determine the best route to the store, and route inside the store. What signs am I seeing, and what isn’t in view? When I go into store, what experience am I expecting — coupons, fast checkout with Apple Pay? And how important is it that there be a smiling associate who helps me with what I need?

There are 100 million devices in circulation in the U.S. marketplace, and there is good data from many sources that enables very targeted promotions to what an individual shopper wants. So the strategy can’t be based on a simple competitive response: "I should go into e-commerce because my competition is there."

You must lead with your customer first; it has to be omnichannel and be a consistent, relevant, pleasing experience.

PH: How can retailers do a better job of understanding their individual shoppers? Like the three people in in your family they can’t have a household solution for you, because each of you shops differently. Based on the tools at hand, what are some of your suggestions?

SG: It starts with bringing all consumer touchpoints and data together in one integrated platform. I can’t overemphasize that. For instance, what often happens is that location data is culled out and considered cool, but it never gets used. Retailers must link it to useful shopping tools.

The second step: It’s important to get out of the mindset of saying, "I am going to have one creative and messaging strategy that will talk to everyone.” Customizing messaging and how we serve the consumer is very important, and it’s much easier to do today.

The last step is measurement, and that has to be on an individual shopper basis as well. If all my execution is “How did Srishti react to it?”— That has to be measured. It has to be surgical.

PH: Retailers are on the front line and have a lot of data, but how can they be helped over the threshold you describe?

SG: One part of the IRi strategy has been to provide a complete ecosystem of all consumer interactions in one platform. We have worked to bring those data sets together. Everything that happens in the store — media data, social and macro — is there, so a large emphasis for us has been making it easy for the retailer. Since the retailer doesn’t have to worry about collecting and syncing and mining data, the key is the business questions that need to be answered. Is it about penetration, location, categories or products? Or is it about how Millennial shoppers, for example, are shopping when they are not in my store? Speed to insight also is essential. For any action, the retailer must know and track the impact it has on specific shoppers. Making that measurement near real time is critical.

PH:  You hit on something that is huge — What is the business question? You have short promotional cycles and have the ability to get more real-time measurement, but retail grocery is complex. Any one aspect or channel in that store  fresh, meat, center store, front of store, dairy — these segments that have been historically siloed. How can you influence behavioral change?

SG: It’s about the metric. If success is “I will sell an additional carton of milk," that is a very siloed approach., versus going back to the consumer and saying, “My success metric is linked back to the shopper.” At the end of the day, success looks like “What did the shopper spend with me, either online or in the store?” or “How often are they interacting with me?” They could have walked into the store and checked items out, or gone online and looked at a recipe. If you don’t line the incentives up correctly, it can be expensive for your business and frustration for your shoppers.

PH: Do you see this driving more occasion-based product alignment in store?

SG: Everyone raves about full-plate solutions. Now think about that — is it an earth-shattering idea? No. Is it convenient? Yes. The historical store layout is for convenience — not necessarily the convenience of the consumer, but the retailer.

PH: How has the notion of content changed over the past few years? Are you seeing change in both the understanding of and nature of the type of content being used to create engagement with the consumer?

SG: Absolutely. All the content that used to be created in the past was interruptive — “Stop what you’re doing and listen to me.” That could be coupon or promotion running that week. That notion has changed, and the faster it changes, the better. Content today has to be woven into the consumer journey. It can’t be “Stop what you are doing and listen to me.” That has been a big change. Today’s messaging is about relevance on the individual shopper level.

Recipes are a great example of that. The number of searches on different types of recipes is a huge source of potential traffic for retailers.

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