Experience is Crucial in the Grocery Store of the Future
Think click-and-collect is cutting-edge? Think again.
How about a supermarket that shoppers can actually drive through — not up to a pickup window, but right up to the shelves?
A Russian inventor actually holds a patent for such a concept, which has made the rounds on social media. Shopping motorists actually pick products off rotating shelves from behind the driver’s seat, dropping items onto a conveyor belt that whisks them off to checkout, where the shoppers pay their bills and speed away, without ever getting out of their cars.
Is this the store of the future?
- Shopper experience is paramount
- Harness the latest technologies to deliver convenient solutions and reduce friction
- Spaces must cater to highly personal shopping missions
Despite the growth of ecommerce, shopper insights indicate that most consumers still like a brick-and-mortar store experience that delivers sights, sounds and smells, perhaps allowing them to linger over a cup of coffee, a full meal or a cooking demonstration.
But the broader picture indicates that most grocery consumers want a seamless experience — the ability to purchase goods in person, online, or by employing click-and-collect or delivery, as their needs and circumstances warrant. To be sure, industry experts agree that experience is paramount in creating a place that shoppers want to be, out and away from their computer screens.
So while you likely won’t see cars driving into every grocery store any time soon, it could be just one component of a larger, increasingly diverse picture of a continually evolving store of the future.
A frictionless experience has been a key focus. Retailers have experimented with self-scanning devices to help shoppers avoid lengthy checkout lines, and Amazon is rolling out cashier-free stores that leverage tech to track purchases and total cashless basket rings.
And as consumers find it easier to purchase center store goods and nonfood items online on demand or with subscription services, grocers are looking at how to reallocate valuable space to augment fresh perimeter categories that many shoppers are still wary to trust to delivery services.
Ultimately, grocery stores must be solution centers, and retailers must keep a constant watch on consumers’ rapidly evolving needs so that stores can stay one step ahead of them.
Progressive Grocer consulted industry experts to get a better understanding as to exactly what “store of the future” means to consumers, the business of selling food, and their symbiotic relationship. Here’s what they told us …
While a multitude of factors are influencing store design, “it ultimately comes down to the need to better serve evolving customer lifestyles and preferences to create more convenient and engaging in-store experiences,” says Dr. Pallab Chatterjee, chairman and CEO of Dallas-based artificial-intelligence solutions provider Symphony RetailAI.
Weekly pantry-loading trips have declined in favor of quick trips and online shopping, and time-starved customers increasingly place a greater value on prepared foods and grab-and-go options. Discounters are also challenging traditional grocery stores, not just bringing lower prices, but also introducing new paradigms for what a grocery store experience can mean.
“There is so much change happening that current supermarket formats need to be fundamentally reconsidered to respond to a new role they serve,” Chatterjee says. “Grocery stores of the future will offer innovative, customer-centric shopping experiences to meet needs and demands of modern shoppers.”
A primary challenge for traditional grocers is that current store layouts no longer meet the demands of today’s customers.
“Ultimately, a wide variety of steps can and should be taken, but they all require that traditional grocers place customer experience as the foundational driver and rationale for change — and smarter data management is the linchpin that will make it happen,” Chatterjee asserts.
To compete in the near future and in the long term, the store of the future must emphasize a host of customer-centric features.
“This will require that grocers reconsider the role of space within the store, the impact of multichannel and convenience shopping on the center store, and the potential for internal- and customer-facing technologies to improve the experience across the board,” he says. “Finding the right approach for each store and local market will require deep insight into owned business and customer data, along with partner/supplier data, which AI-enabled systems will be increasingly critical to manage.”
Stores of the future must employ technologies that help customers get what they want, when they want it, in an environment that they enjoy, Chatterjee says.
“They will increasingly rely on technology to reduce friction in traditional processes, using AI-enabled systems to predict customer needs and manage assortments, promotions, associate responsibilities and more,” he notes. “AI will be essential, as only the grocers who are able to predict behavior can create the conditions customers demand.”
Beyond smarter data management, retailers also need to reduce the friction across customer touchpoints and ensure that multichannel shopping journeys are a cinch.
One essential service in this regard will be click-and-collect, according to Chatterjee.
“Today, as more customers start their shopping journeys online, grocers are identifying follow-on benefits from offering this service by optimizing store layouts to adjust to new foot-traffic patterns. For example, they might relocate their pharmacy near a click-and-collect counter for fast collection, deploy a prepared-meal counter close by, or create a drive-through lane that keeps the customer’s time investment to a minimum,” he says.
For traditional shopping trips, the checkout is another area rapidly changing through technology.
“As revealed in Symphony RetailAI’s ‘Supermarket 2020’ research, we expect self-service kiosks to make up 80 percent of checkout lanes by 2020, with only 20 percent remaining manned,” Chatterjee observes. “This allows for more lanes, faster checkouts and happier customers.”
In response, the grocery workforce will become more optimally deployed, moving from transactional to value-driving roles.
“As checkouts and other processes become automated or self-service, associates will be positioned as click-and-collect pickers, prepared-food chefs and mobile customer support staff,” Chatterjee predicts.
Customer experience will also move from transactional to experiential, as retailers create more enjoyable spaces, better convenience and new services.
“The barriers between the digital and the physical will break down with services like click-and-collect, but also the presence of touchscreens on in-store tables where customers can gather and consume prepared meals,” Chatterjee says. “These touchscreens will allow customers to engage with new products online, scan loyalty cards, and search for new offers and promos as they eat. The store will serve multiple purposes, ranging from ultra-convenience to ultra-experience.”
From a supply chain perspective, AI will help create far more intelligent assortments and demand forecasting to help customers find the products they want, increase the value of fresh produce and meat, and allow for special product aisles with assortment changing twice a week to surprise and delight the maximum number of customers, Chatterjee notes. “The supply chain will become increasingly intelligent, agile and customer-serving, while limiting the waste and slow adaptations to customer demand that often occur in grocery today,” he adds.
Chatterjee expects these concepts to quickly become reality as retailers identify the value of these changes and customer expectations continue to become more demanding: “We expect the store of the ‘future’ to resemble this vision by 2020.”