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Independent Retailers Thrive on Main Street


Independent grocers face the reality of a new environment shaped by social, technology, economic, industry and political influences. It’s a continual case of fine tuning – and maybe upending – shopping environments to deliver against the shopper “experience,” according to Dan O’Connor, executive chairman of RetailNet Group, who moderated a panel at The 2016 NGA Show focused on “How to Win on Mainstreet.”

The harsh reality is that as technology and social media gain more of our attention, it’s actually harder to hold anyone’s attention. O’Connor reports that the attention span of 2000 – 12 seconds – dwindled to a mere 8 seconds by 2013. That’s 8 seconds to capture and close a shopper. Are you still with me?

This attention deficit is a factor impacting shoppers, but also store associates. If there’s a silver lining, technology is keeping pace, and grocery retail is continually moving into “real time.” O’Connor pointed to a series of “smart assistants,” most notably Amazon’s voice-activated tool Alexa, which possesses 170 different skills, from telling time and providing weather updates, to creating shopping lists and activating lights. It’s technological advances such as this that O’Connor says will “change the way retail is conducted.”

Now layer in the myriad degrees of shopper and store associate engagement, from the old-school model of the shopper picking, packing and delivering groceries, to the many iterations leading up to third-party delivery. O’Connor estimates that typical grocery stores will need to replace 25-40 percent of their merchandise as sales of center-store stalwarts such as paper goods and other household products transition to ecommerce platforms.

That can actually be good news for retailers who will embrace the extra space as they build the “experience” that shoppers crave. Panelists Randy Arceneaux, president and CEO of Affiliated Foods Inc.; Giusy Buonfantino, president of North America Baby & Child Care, Kimberly-Clark; Mel Landis, president, The Minute Maid Co.; Rich Niemann, Jr., president and CEO, Niemann Foods Inc.; and Cheryl Sommer, president of Kaune’s Neighborhood Market, shared their thoughts on the pace of change in grocery retail. In today’s market, grocery retail must compete for attention, and it’s competing with many forms of “entertainment.” Retailers need to work in a sense of theater, providing experience not only in selection, but also presentation.

What won’t change, according to Sommer, is Kaune’s focus on “people, products and presence…. [but] make it an adventure to shop,” she says. Of course retailers must meet expectations for the products shoppers come in to buy, but “let them find what they need, then provide the experience” that will delight them. Sommer suggests rethinking the physical store in such a way that embodies old fashioned mainstreets. Rather than aisles, she suggests pods that evoke a candy shop, bakery, butcher, and so on.

Says Niemann, change is inevitable, and it’s the retailer’s duty to change, “even when things are going well.” 

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