Friction: The Biggest Threat to Retail?

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Friction: The Biggest Threat to Retail?

By Jim Dudlicek - 09/17/2019
Carlos Garcia Facebook Groceryshop 2019
Facebook's Carlos Garcia makes the case against friction at Groceryshop 2019

Shopper loyalty is impossible without delivering on convenience. And real convenience can only be achieved by eliminating friction from the shopping experience.

This was the prevailing wind blowing through the first full day of the 2019 Groceryshop conference, Sept. 15-18 at the Venetian Resort in Las Vegas, at least in the breakout sessions I attended.

And the arguments seemed airtight, from not only the speakers but also by the number of exhibitors displaying solutions designed to streamline the journey from wanting something to getting it.

“Friction is a massive threat to all our businesses,” declared Carlos Garcia, industry manager for CPG-retail at Menlo Park, Calif.-based Facebook. “We can’t have loyalty unless we deliver on convenience.”

Eva Press Facebook Groceryshop 2019
Interest in retail subscription services is rising, says Facebook's Eva Press

Garcia’s colleague, Eva Press, Facebook’s North American group lead for CPG, health care and retail, went a step further, declaring friction to be the absolute biggest threat to retail. Press proposed radical changes to the traditional grocery circular, something that now seems so hopelessly antiquated but is still embraced by many.

Press said that disrupting the circular means more than just changing its distribution model from the newspaper to the digital realm. It needs an entirely new focus to be relevant to a new generation, she argued, noting that nearly half of consumers shop based on convenience over price, and that consumers in increasing numbers are warming up to subscription services and automatic replenishment.

“Disrupt the disruptors before they disrupt you,” Press advised, “by embracing the zero-friction future.”

Mike Molitor Raleys Groceryshop 2019
Mike Molitor, of Raley's, explains the concept of "relationship commerce"

To remove the roadblocks between wanting something and having it, Mike Molitor, head of ecommerce and loyalty at West Sacramento, Calif.-based supermarket chain Raley’s, recommended a course of “relationship commerce,” in which enhanced shopper engagement drives personalization that, in turn, brings loyalty.

To be sure, attracting new customers and retaining your loyalists means knowing their need states and delivering on them, and knowing which categories resonate most with them, said Lori Raya, a grocery veteran who’s now chief merchandising and marketing officer for Grand Rapids, Mich.-based SpartanNash.

Communicating clear messages to consumers is important for brands as well as retailers. People embrace simple, authentic brand stories. But don’t be too quick to brag on yourself, warned Craig Dubitsky, founder of Montclair, N.J.-based personal care startup Hello – just do the right thing and let word of mouth do the rest. “If you connect with people, you win, and winning is connecting with the largest number of people,” Dubitsky said.

It’s too easy to say that removing friction is all about technology. Certainly, tech makes it easier, but tech for tech's sake leaves you rudderless. Applying the right technology in the right way, to deliver solutions that make consumers’ lives easier and demonstrate to them that you’re on their side – that’s the route toward becoming friction-free.

Follow our live event coverage on Twitter at @pgrocer and @jimdudlicek.

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