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The Personalization Imperative in Grocery

Bloomreach exec explains why grocery needs to be personal
Emily Crowe, Progressive Grocer
brian bloomreach
Brian Walker of Bloomreach explained to Grocery Industry Week-goers why personalization is so important in today's grocery ecosystem.

Personalization was the name of the game during the Nov. 2 GenNext keynote speech, delivered by Brian Walker, chief strategy officer at commerce experience cloud company Bloomreach. While today’s methods of personalization utilize technology and data to give customers what they want, Walker believes retailers also need to get back to basics in an effort to get to know their customers and develop better relationships with them.

“Personalization in the grocery industry, it’s really going back to the first principles, in a sense,” Walker explained of today’s consumers. “Understanding their culture, their customs, their diets, their families…What we’re talking about  here in personalization is how to bring that forward.”

[Read more: "How Does Gen Z View the Future of Food Retail?"]

While grocery moved toward a generic experience that focused on mass marketing and mass distribution for several decades, today’s shoppers expect more, Walker said, especially considering that food is one of the most personal and important human experiences. Among the attributes that are most important to today’s consumers are taste, culture, season, holidays, religion, ethics, fitness, therapy and more.

“We need to recognize that we can make this a lot better,” Walker said. “Even to make it more acute, we need to recognize that, with the pandemic, customer loyalty, in a sense, is up for grabs.”

Continued Walker: “Customers tried new brands and they tried new channels in ways that hadn’t been the case before. That physical real estate that your organizations have invested in for years and that control of the mindshare of the customer, that’s not really the paradigm.”

With many consumers unlikely to return to their pre-pandemic shopping patterns, attributes like convenience and delight are even more poised to perpetuate the customer transformation. As such, Walker referenced McKinsey & Co. data that shows 71% of customers expect personalization and 76% are frustrated when they don’t see it.

Additionally, 78% of consumers are more likely to repurchase or recommend a product when they see personalization attached to it. With that in mind, Walker explained, retailers should not think about personalization as something cynical or related to spying on customers. “Customers want it and customers expect it,” he said.

In a broader sense, personalization can be thought of as making it easier for a customer to navigate both in-store and online; making relevant product and service recommendations; tailoring messaging to needs; and offering targeted promotions.

“For customers, this is what personalization means to them, and it’s not just a product recommendation,” Walker said. “It’s really the experience that they’re talking about and how you communicate with them.”

Deeper understanding of personalization is necessary to better connect with today’s consumers, especially through advanced product discovery, site navigation and search experience, cross-category selling, seasonal collections, localized personalization rules including demographics, and more. 

In the end, Walker believes investing in data is an important piece of the personalization puzzle. “A strong foundation of customer data, a strong foundation of product data, is really critical,” he said. “Invest there. This is what’s required to drive personalization."

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