Tech Titans

This year’s Technology Innovation Awards winners show what an omni-channel world we live in.

The most difficult part of this year’s Technology Innovation Awards program was classifying the winning retailers’ solutions. As we move further into an omni-channel world, the lines between brick and mortar and digital are becoming increasingly blurred.

Indeed, a quick look at our winners has persuaded me that we can no longer use our former technology categories of in-store systems, enterprise, supply chain and online — they’re just not specific enough. Stop & Shop’s Scan It! Mobile solution is a perfect example. The solution is based on a mobile app, yet it’s technology for which a major function applies to the brick-and-mortar store. Albertsons’ Best Road Trip, Ever! contest is another. It was hosted on Albertsons’ website, but incorporates social components as well. So for this year’s awards, we were as specific as possible with our categorizing, occasionally including subcategories, too.

That being said, what has remained the same among our winners’ solutions is this: their level of innovation continues to reach new heights. Congratulations to our winners!

Ahold USA/Stop & Shop

Category: In-store/Mobile

Vendor involved: Catalina

Ahold USA’s Scan It! Mobile enables shoppers to use their personal mobile devices to scan, tally and bag groceries; check out; and receive personalized mobile offers based on their shopping history. Currently available at more than 360 Stop & Shop stores, the solution was developed to streamline the grocery shopping experience with one easy-to-use mobile app.

This is the latest iteration of a program that started more than a decade ago, and involved a touchscreen device that slid into a carriage on a shopping cart and included a built-in scanner. Over the years, the hardware decreased in size and increased in mobility to a hand-held scanner, ultimately placing the hardware — and its capital expense — in the hands of consumers in the form of an app that they use on their own mobile devices.

The latest version of the Scan-It solution combines mobile scan and bag with loyalty and personalization functionality, and is seamlessly integrated with Stop & Shop’s point-of-sale system in several ways.

Scan It! Mobile delivers relevant offers that are personalized to each shopper based on past shopping history tied to the shopper’s loyalty card. More than 5 million personalized offers are delivered each month via Catalina’s personalized media network. Catalina has added numerous new features to its platform, including the ability to Like and Share coupons via Scan It! Mobile.

The Scan It! program has driven significant basket lift at Quincy, Mass.-based Stop & Shop and because of this, the program is slated to expand to other Ahold USA banners in the future.

Albertsons LLC

Category: Online

Vendor Involved: Albertsons LLC

Albertsons’ Best Road Trip, Ever! was an online and in-store progressive-prize digital/social engagement campaign in which customers created “road-trip” stories by captioning sponsor product images and sharing them on social networks in an effort to gain votes for their stories.

Product images were shot by TriDigital Inc. at the direction of Albertsons LLC in a modern “Instagram” style, with alternative content designed to spur the imagination as the subject of entrant stories.

The grand prize was a new Ford vehicle — the model of which increased in value (moving higher up the Ford model line, starting with a Fiesta and maxing out as an Explorer) as more people created stories, entered and shared them for votes. Eight grand prizes were awarded, one in each company division.

The goal of the contest was to connect customers to the company brand and promote sponsor products, as well as to collect customer opt-ins for future communications. The 30-day campaign ended on Sept. 3, 2013, and was available to more than 1,060 Albertsons customers.

The contest consisted of several highly innovative components. The progressive grand-prize vehicle was based on the number of contest entries and shares of user-generated content (road-trip stories), which was developed to encourage entrants to share their stories widely and promote the campaign to more potential entrants.

The second innovation was the user-generated content based on sponsor products. Liking and commenting on products are common practices in today’s digital world, but enabling customers to be creative writers about sponsor products is unique. Stories consisted of a selectable introduction, captions of four sponsor products, and a selectable conclusion. Another innovation was “lifestyle” product images shot as part of the campaign. This enabled the images to be better “promoters” of creativity for the entrants.

“For this contest, we had participants use sponsors’ products as the muses for their stories,” says Karl Meinhardt, VP of social and digital marketing at Boise, Idaho-based Albertsons. “When you think of top-of-mind marketing, it’s one thing to see a brand on a page, where someone might click on it and remember it later. But when you use that brand to create a story, the imprint on the brain is going to be much deeper. Whenever you create around something — whether that is an idea, a concept or whatever — it sticks in your head.”

Sales of sponsor products in both revenue and units went up significantly. Customer opt-ins were also significant and customer engagement was high, according to Albertsons. Prompting entrants to create stories about sponsor products established a strong connection between the customer and the products — and most sponsors asked to participate again next year.

Brookshire Grocery Co.

Category: Enterprise/Marketing

Vendor involved: SAP AG

Tyler, Texas-based Brookshire Grocery Co. (BCG) had the goal of integrating its promotion planning, creation, forecasting and execution processes to improve promotion effectiveness and profitability. To accomplish this, the grocer had to develop more accurate promotions and streamline processes internally and within departments, while planning and creating promotions for customers.

To that end, BGC worked with SAP to implement Promotions Management for Retail (PMR), an application developed to help retailers identify the promotions that will be most profitable based on true shopper demand. PMR provides support for planning promotions, forecasting performance, and creating a single platform to allow business users to collaborate quickly and effectively throughout the entire promotion-planning and execution lifecycle. BGC successfully rolled out PMR in 10 months to all 152 of its stores, and as of July 2013, all promotion information began coming from PMR to all retail sites.

Results have been highly successful. According to BGC, PMR has improved productivity by enhancing collaboration on advertising execution between vendor partners and category managers. It has also created more accurate store-level forecasts, helping BGC to understand the financial performance of each promotional event, and has lowered promotional costs by reducing the time required to produce advertisements, as well as the number of proofs needed for printing and reviewing.

BGC was one of the first companies worldwide to implement this SAP product, and the first to deploy it in North America. The successful implementation led to the grocer’s winning SAP’s 2013 Innovate Better Award at the SAP Retail Forum this past October.

The ROI will be achieved on a category-by-category basis. Better productivity, better promotional forecasts and ROI are being achieved earlier for the perishable categories. BGC expects full benefits to be achieved by summer 2014.

Price Chopper Supermarkets

Category: Mobile

Vendors involved: Mercatus Technologies; Google/Zavers

Price Chopper developed smartphone apps for iPhone, Android and iPad that are fully integrated and function in real time with website feature functionality. The coupons are also integrated digitally into the Schenectady, N.Y.-based grocer’s POS when the customer presents a loyalty card.

Using the app, customers have the ability to access key features and functionality across multiple platforms in real time and on their preferred digital device. For example, a customer can use the website on a computer at home to make lists, add e-coupons, and preview recipes and the weekly ad. When that customer switches from the computer to her mobile device (smartphone and/or tablet), all of the preferences, lists, coupons and so on are available without her having to redo anything. Additionally, customers can now use these same features (add coupons, review the ad and select a meal solution from the grocer’s recipes) in the store when they’re making their purchase decisions.

One challenge Price Chopper had to address during the implementation was developing a design that would provide the best user experience for each device a customer might use. This required engineering the features to work in the manner that the user expects. For example, on the website, the user expects to page through the ad, while on the mobile devices, the expectation is to pinch, zoom and swipe. Unlike a mobile-optimized solution, the selections made on the mobile app are still available even when Internet access isn’t available, thanks to caching technology. This also provides a user experience appropriate for the device being used.

To date, more than 50 percent of Price Chopper’s digital users are now mobile, and the grocer plans to incorporate additional feature functionality in the near future.

Raley’s Family of Fine Stores

Category: Social Media

Vendors involved: BzzAgent; Dunnhumby USA

“Something Extra Try-It” is a social advocacy program designed to encourage participants to spread buzz about various Raley’s products and offers via social media platforms.

The program has more than 1 million members, with an “agent” base of approximately 14,000 loyal shoppers. Chosen from this base, Try-It members are targeted for campaigns based on demographic/psychographic data, shopping behavior, and advocacy rating to ensure that the campaign is relevant and effective for both Raley’s and the participating brand or brands.

Each Try It campaign has three components:

Engage: After opting into a Try-It campaign, members (agents) receive an exclusive experience, specifically designed to encourage users to advocate on behalf of the participating brands through social media and offline sharing. A package is mailed to the agent that generally contains samples, literature on the product or service, instructions on how to engage in the program, coupons to share with friends, and other pertinent items (for example, a Raley’s branded whisk for a baking campaign). Additionally, rich digital coupons are made available to the agent to load to her Something Extra card.

Activate: Participants are directed to spread word of mouth regarding the brands through various social activities, which in turn help participants earn points and qualify for future programs.

Measure: Participants’ social actions are measured and tied to actual purchase behavior and coupon share behavior through the “Something Extra” loyalty program, ultimately providing direct and indirect sales lift.

At the launch of the program, in November 2012, Raley’s had a recruitment goal of 5,000 agents in the first month, but ended up getting more than 10,000 in the first three days — it was so successful, the grocer had to shut off the recruitment pipeline. “For our program to be effective, we need to ensure that we have enough campaigns often enough for our agents to stay engaged,” says Tom Hutchison, Raley’s director of CRM analytics. “Thus, we limited our agent base to under 15,000 in the first year.”

The campaign plan for the first nine months was fully funded by Raley’s and consisted primarily of the grocer’s private label products, although some national brands were mixed in to round out campaign offerings. Manufacturer-funded campaigns started in August 2013; with Coca-Cola was the first with a campaign for its new Cafeine Free Coke Zero.

Ultimately, the Something Extra Try-It program has reached more than 3 million people and driven positive sales, cost and ROI on every campaign.

“We measure success in terms of sales/cost ratio and brand equity impact,” says Hutchison. “The program more than paid for itself in the first year, solely from the measured sales uplifts. The brand equity impacts for products and the company are all icing on the cake for Raley’s.”

Something Extra Try-It continues to evolve: Raley’s recently updated the branding of the physical package it sends to customers, and has added Pinterest functionality. Moving forward, the grocer is launching a mobile version so agents can interact via their smartphones, and will provide more campaigns per agent, with the aim of one campaign per agent per quarter.

Sprouts Farmers Markets

Category: Enterprise/Business Intelligence

Vendor involved: Manthan Systems

In 2011 and 2012, Sprouts Farmers Market completed mergers with Henry’s Farmers Market and Sunflower Farmers Market, resulting in a mix of IT applications that was used to manage the individual businesses. Sprouts implemented Manthan Systems’ ARC BI platform and Merchandise Analytics software to leverage its Big Data capabilities and sift through all of that disparate data to meet the reporting needs of sales, labor and margins across all of its stores — as well as to provide a “single version of the truth” for the combined stores.

“When you have 20 to 50 stores, you don’t have to dive into business intelligence and Big Data to really wrap your arms around the basic reporting needs of sales, labor and margins,” notes Steve Black, CMO and CIO of Phoenix-based Sprouts. “Each one of the three companies had some of the same software, so our core technologies were very similar. But as merged companies, there was so much data to evaluate that we had to figure out a way to break it down into bite-size chunks.”

The ARC BI platform enables Sprouts to aggregate retail data from multiple sources so that merchandisers, marketers, store operations professionals, supply chain operators and executives can access a single application to gain insights regarding business performance quickly and easily.

The Merchandise Analytics solution includes a wide array of reports, dashboards and analyses to help retailers enhance productivity and profitability by optimizing merchandise and assortment performance, and tracking new product performance. The solution is completely cloud- and mobile-enabled, allowing retailers to access real-time insights on the go.

The result is that Sprouts was able to move away from time-consuming manual reporting. The grocer can now aggregate retail data from multiple sources. Responses to queries are fast and allow users to drill down or change query elements to immediately identify where there may be some areas of opportunity.

Finally, the Manthan application is completely mobile-enabled, which will allow users to access critical insights whether at their desktops or on their tablets, so they can completely focus on the business, regardless of their location.

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