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The Future of Impulse Buys

In the digital era, food retailers must get more creative with merchandising
Gina Acosta, Progressive Grocer
The Future of Impulse Buys
Changes in the front end are important in meeting consumer expectations, while also helping create engagement and drive bigger baskets.

About three months before the first full-size U.S. grocery store with checkoutless technology opened in June, a new survey of U.S. consumers showed just how much the grocery front end is changing due to e-commerce and automation.

The PowerReviews grocery shopper study, published in March, showed that 73% of consumers had purchased groceries online within the past three months, and the top reasons for online shopping included time savings (59%), personal safety (49%) and avoiding impulse purchases (31%).

Consumers shopping at the new Amazon Fresh store, in Bellevue, Wash., can now skip checkout lanes through a combination of computer vision, sensor fusion and deep learning. Customers are prompted at the store’s entry gates to choose whether they want to use “Just Walk Out” shopping and bypass the front end, or use the traditional checkout lanes.

The opening of Amazon’s Just Walk Out grocery store is poised to reset shoppers’ expectations regarding the definition of a truly frictionless grocery experience. But for retailers and suppliers, the more pressing challenge is what it means for front end sales and impulse purchases. The proliferation of online grocery delivery and pickup, mobile checkout, self-checkout, and the soon-to-be-everywhere Just Walk Out technology from Amazon is suppressing the impulse, or unplanned, buys that happen at the front end, and retailers and CPG companies are worried.

At the Sweets and Snacks Expo (SSE) in Indianapolis last week, the Hershey Co. said that it “sees a growth opportunity for retailers” in front end redesign that includes evolving pay points, queueing strategies and cashierless checkout. Changes in these areas are important in meeting consumer expectations, while also helping create engagement and drive bigger baskets, the company said.

Mars Wrigley went even further, unveiling a platform for “the new era of impulse shopping.” The new Accelerating Impulse Moments (AIM) insights platform consists of conversion strategies for retailers across all channels in stores and online, with Snacks Aisle Optimization, Secondary Display Growth, Transaction Zone Reinvention and Digital Solutions Execution. These strategies aim to “help retailers shape impulse throughout the shopper journey” to create an effective and engaging omnichannel experience, according to Mars Wrigley.

Retailers and suppliers attending SSE got a chance to view new, impulse-driving merchandising strategies for mobile checkout and self-checkout areas at the front end, including digital displays, LED lighting, expanded better-for-you snack assortments, and new queuing configurations. Grocers are already leveraging some of these new methods to drive awareness and convert impulse buys among the increasing number of shoppers who are skipping traditional checkouts.

But the rise of e-commerce calls for redefining merchandising strategies across all platforms. How do retailers create a sensory experience online that matches the physical store sensory experience that converts impulse buys? Does your e-commerce platform feature product ingredient lists, product expiration dates and product reviews? According to the PowerReviews grocery shopper study, 78% of online grocery shoppers are more likely to purchase a new grocery item if customer reviews exist for that product. What about offering flash deals, recipes, or exclusive and limited-time promotions to drive impulse (on everything from gummy bears to housewares to gourmet burger toppings)? Chinese behemoth Alibaba’s newest grocery platform offers personalized food recommendations and barcodes showing product provenance and sourcing information. What are the ways to build bigger baskets with the shopper who orders groceries online, picks them up and walks into the store anyway?

There is a big opportunity for retailers to think much more outside the box with merchandising in the digital grocery era. The new era of impulse will require multifaceted merchandising solutions to convert unplanned buys throughout the shopper journey, whether it’s at curbside pickup, online or in-store.

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