Fresh Tech Perspectives: 3 GenNext Award Winners Talk What's Next for Grocery
The grocery industry is changing, and what better way to get ahead of what’s next than by checking in with some of Progressive Grocer’s technology-focused GenNext Award winners?
- Progressive Grocer GenNext Award winners Jaclyn Cardin, Emily Gibbons and Nick Nickitas speak about what technologies are driving the industry and where the most potential lies in the next five years and beyond.
- Common topics of discussion include the evolution of a truly seamless omnichannel experience; increased data and personalization, with transparency at the forefront; and customers’ curation of their own retail experiences.
- So that grocery will continue to move forward, and eventually catch up to other retail segments, it must have the right talent in place.
Emily Gibbons, VP of data science for The Kroger Co.’s 84.51° division, in Cincinnati; Nick Nickitas, CEO and founder of Ithaca, N.Y.-based ecommerce and data analytics services provider Rosie; and Jaclyn Cardin, director of interactive for La Farge, Wis.-based CROPP Cooperative/Organic Valley, are all in their 30s, and all look at the grocery business through a very different lens from that of many industry veterans.
PG sat down with all three of them individually to figure out what technologies are driving the industry and where they see the most potential for the next five years and beyond.
Some common themes emerged in these discussions: a truly seamless omnichannel experience is evolving and has yet to be fully realized; increased data and personalization are the way of the future, with transparency at the forefront; and customers are curating their own retail experiences while really being in charge.
The Omnichannel Shopper
We hear time and time again that customers are increasingly shopping for groceries online, but that retail stores won’t go away. All three of these young experts agree that one of the main reasons that this is true is because shoppers will never exclusively favor one channel.
“Depending on where you are and how your day is taking shape, there are some days where you’ll have time to run into the grocery store and have that in-store experience, where you get to hold and touch and see things, and take the time going through the aisles,” Cardin says. “Then you have other days where you’re just flying from one thing to the next, [so] being able to quickly find your top 10 items and shop off your list from last week is just going to be the most effective thing that you can do in order to get groceries home in time to feed the kids for dinner.
More GenNext Honorees
At Kroger’s 84.51°, most of the data is transactional in nature, creating a really robust longitudinal data set following customers on their journeys through the grocery shopping channel. Gibbons is quick to note that it’s hard to separate the consumer advantages from the retailer advantages of this data set.
“Everything that you do to optimize supply chain, everything that you do to optimize out-of-stocks, everything that you do to optimize assortment and pricing, ultimately should drive a better customer experience in a way that helps to broaden Kroger’s engagement with consumers,” she says. “We really help to make sure that data is driving the decisions for every unit of the business, and we’ve expanded quite a bit to be involved a lot more in things like operations and supply chain and making sure that we’re looking more at end-to-end.”
“That’s going to put these independent grocers in a position to build community gathering places that are going to draw people back in their stores, as opposed to just being fulfillment depots.”
As for Cardin, she’s most excited to see how ecommerce continues to evolve, with an easier mobile experience for shoppers and an ever-growing number of last-mile delivery options for retailers.
Cardin also had experience in the beauty industry before landing at CROPP, and she thinks some of its ideas, such as user-generated content on social media, are now generating buzz in the grocery industry, or at least should be.
“In my experience [in the beauty industry], way more often than not, when we would test branded content versus user-generated content, the user-generated content would win really from a click, a purchase or an engagement standpoint,” she says. “You don’t see so much of that in grocery today, so being able to really leverage the content coming from consumers, and leveraging their stories in the way that they’re using our products to fit into their lives, I think is really interesting, and something that we definitely want to lean into more in the future.”
Attracting the Right Talent
To keep grocery moving forward, and in many respects to help it catch up to other segments of retail, the industry needs the right talent. These three GenNext honorees, along with the other 22 individuals under the age of 40 who received the honor in 2019, are a testament to the ingenuity that talent can breed.
The industry is also highly diverse and offers potential career paths for professionals of many backgrounds and areas of study.
“When you think about it in terms of the data that’s available, when you think about it in terms of the opportunity to play with the latest consumer web and mobile technology, the chance to do really innovative blends in models and bricks and clicks, as opposed to just brick-and-mortar or online, that’s really interesting,” Nickitas asserts.
He goes on to note: “These are technology companies that happen to solve grocery logistic issues. They’re not really grocery companies any more. And that’s what’s really neat."