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EXCLUSIVE: What Tech Investments Should Food Retailers Be Making Right Now?

Execs at Shoptalk share their thoughts with Progressive Grocer on industry's most important moves
Emily Crowe, Progressive Grocer
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Grocery technology capabilities are proliferating, and executives have differing views on what investments are most important right now.

Whether it’s embracing retail media or artificial intelligence (AI), connecting digitally with customers, or bringing experiential shopping to the forefront, there are many ways for food retailers to hit the ground running with technology in today’s often-challenging retail environment. Executives from across the retail industry shared their thoughts on the next key technology steps with Progressive Grocer during Shoptalk in Las Vegas.

Changing Trends in the Consumer Mindset

Mike Calvo, chief technology officer, Shipt“Change is the new constant. So being really in tune with what your customers are needing from you from a service perspective is more essential than it’s ever been. We’re not getting decades-worth of people doing the same thing, we’re seeing massive shifts in consumer behavior happening very quickly. Being able to be there to provide the kind of service that’s being expected or needed by the changing times is essential. Put the focus back on the customer – what are they needing in this moment and how can we leverage technology to offer that?”

Understanding What’s in Stock

Fuad Hannon, vice president of new verticals, DoorDash“The biggest challenge that a lot of merchants are going through is understanding their inventory and understanding actually what’s in stock in a digital-first world. It’s ultimately the way you build trust with consumers – it’s back-end, it’s data and it’s inventory. It’s not particularly sexy, but getting that right is critical.”

Competing Against Biggest Retailers With Retail Media

Sean Turner, co-founder and chief technology officer, Swiftly“Today is the day where you have to start engaging your shoppers digitally. Walmart already has hundreds of millions of shoppers on their mobile app and their website. They’ve got that presence, they’ve got 5,000 store locations, and now Kroger and Albertsons are going to have 5,000 store locations. If you move now, you do have the opportunity to stay ahead. Retailers really need to be moving to see how they can get as many of their shoppers engaged on their digital app as possible, and how they capture and own that customer relationship so that when a customer is placing an order, they’re doing it in the retailer’s mobile application.”

The AI Revolution

Melissa Burdick, co-founder and president, Pacvue“Something like a shoppable video is more engaging and helps customers understand more about the brand. When you go to a store, you’re stuck with a shelf that’s not telling the story of a brand, what kind of ingredients are needed or things you can make. I think that’s the next evolution – the discovery process. We’re moving into this new AI wave, and AI has been around for a long time, but it is more around ChatGPT and generative GPT that can help with imagery, product detail pages, videos and discovery of how people figure out what they should be buying. Where the shopping experience today is static, it’s going to be much more customized and personalized.”

Checkout Experience

Erin Halka, director of industry strategy, Blue Yonder“I feel like that is an area that’s ripe for opportunity to take away the friction. Self-checkout has been adopted by some but it is still not as convenient. What I would see on the horizon is trying to find ways to seamlessly checkout. If someone could really figure out how to utilize cameras in the store, how to utilize the devices that the customer has, I feel like that would unlock such a crucial experience to that customer buying journey.”

Customer Acquisition Tools

R.J. Hottovy, head of analytical research,“Foot traffic analytics, or some sort of customer acquisition tool. I think it is something that can drive traffic. It’s gotten very competitive both online and physical, and you really have to meet that consumer at the personalized level. That includes marketing – I think that idea of being able to speak directly one-to-one with your consumer, whatever approach that takes you, that’s the thing that’s going to be most important.”

A Better Shopping Experience Driven by AI

Arv Natarajan, director of product, GroupBy“Everybody is talking about ChatGPT. It’s not so much that technology, but something like that which can drive the shopping experience to be more seamless. At the end of the day, e-commerce is about convenience for the customer. If you can buy online and pick it up in the store, you can feel as if you’re in a store and talk to somebody. You can have that done by AI. If you can apply that in the grocery space either through recipes or specifics about something like a food allergy, that would be really interesting. I think AI can be leveraged for that because there’s so much information out there. Being able to go through it at scale and speed is something only AI can do.”

*Responses have been edited for length and clarity

Shoptalk took place March 26-29 at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas.

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