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Evolving Role of Technology in the In-store Experience: Q&A

Some 68 percent of consumers use their mobile devices to discover products in the grocery store according to the NinthDecimal Mobile Audience Insight Report. This means consumers are already using technology to improve their shopping experience and as a grocer, you should too. We sat down with Stephanie Waters, Retail Industry Principal, hybris (an SAP company), to discuss the role of technology in the grocery industry. She has experience working with major grocers to improve the customer experience and provide shoppers with the products/services they are looking for. 

How has technology impacted the grocery industry from a customer experience standpoint?  

One of the biggest game changers in the grocery industry is the evolution of mobile. This shouldn’t come as a surprise as mobile is impacting most industries today, but it's really changing the way consumers grocery shop and engage with products. Mobile devices have become an extension of ourselves so it’s only natural that consumers use mobile in the grocery store as well as a way to enhance their in-store experience – from checking recipes to locating mobile coupons and checking their lists. In fact, 86 percent of consumers use their mobile devices for getting ready for their shopping trip, according to NinthDecimal Mobile Audience Insight Report. Grocery stores know consumers are using their devices, but how can they use technology to improve the customer experience?

One simple solution is to develop a “way finding” application to help shoppers better navigate the store. Way finding allows customers to find the exact location of a product in the store and can even provide them with deals for additional products on their journey that may be of interest to them. For example, if a customer was looking to buy tortilla chips, the way finding solution could direct them to the chip aisle and also provide them with savings on salsa as they walk by that aisle. Using technology to direct customers to the product they are looking for and provide savings on additional products makes the shopping experience more enjoyable and convenient.

Are consumers looking for technology to help them make in-store purchases?

Consumers are always on the go and starved for time, so they rarely have a moment to clip paper coupons or sort through various digital outlets looking for deals. Consumers still want to be presented with in-store offers – they just want the offers to be relevant to them and increasingly delivered in the moment. Brands can improve the couponing experience by using technology to provide customers with relevant savings on products they regularly purchase and are genuinely interested in. Technology can bring savings right to consumers’ fingertips on their mobile devices in real time. What if you walked by the ice cream freezer and a coupon popped up for $2 off your next ice cream purchase? Would you be more likely to buy that ice cream? In most cases, yes. Providing consumers with real-time information that can save them money on products within their reach will help drive sales.

Grocers can also use technology to speed up the purchasing process for consumers. Automated kiosks should be used at delis and bakeries to speed up the ordering process and reduce wait times for customers. The ability to use technology to reduce wait times and allow customers to continue to shop, while the order is being prepared, is something that grocery stores should take advantage of. The more time consumers spend walking down the aisles and less time they spend waiting in line, leads to higher revenue streams.

Should technology be used to help employees answer customer questions? Or does technology limit the need for in-store employees.

In-store associates become even more critical as food retailers build deeper relationships to provide customers with additional product details and an improved experience. But what is changing now is the consumer’s expectation of an in-store associate to be well-informed and empowered. The concept of clienteling used in other retail formats is definitely starting to make its way into the supermarket aisle. Consumers want store associates to understand products, offer innovative uses and even make recommendations. If associates do not have the information at hand, they are expected to be equipped with technology to help them answer customer questions. Store associates should not be afraid to say “I don’t know,” but they must be prepared to use technology to help answer all customer questions and research a product together. Use technology as a way to improve the customer experience and arm associates with all the information they need to help customers make informed decisions.

What can technology offer customers that they have not experienced in the past? 

Technology is just the enabler for delivering a great customer experience. It really comes down to the food retailer’s commitment to adapt to their customers’ needs across all channels. As more customers become accustomed to using technology while shopping, grocers need to implement technology in ways that will make a meaningful impact on the customer’s shopping experience. Technology should offer customers a way to find products quickly, better understand the products they are searching for and even find new uses for products. Providing consumers with real-time savings and information on products and services they care about is the biggest improvement technology can make in the grocery industry.

What steps should grocery stores take to implement technology into their customer engagement efforts? 

The priority areas for technology investment are in mobile, personalization and the ability to provide that seamless experience across channels. Grocers should look to create an omni-channel experience for customers that improve their shopping experience by simplifying it and making it a more enjoyable process.  

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