Technology disruptors are causing independent supermarkets to innovate
Independent supermarket retailers were once again charged to take on the “The Big Guys” at the National Grocers Association Annual Convention in San Diego last week. If they don’t, suggested several speakers, they might not be around for next year’s event.
John Phillips, senior vice president of customer supply chain at PepsiCo, presented a list of eight disruptors for the grocery industry in the next few years. It included IoT, conversation commerce (Alexa, Siri, et al), digital shelf labels, cashier-less checkout, robots and drones, autonomous vehicles, crowdsourced delivery (Instacart, Postmates or Shipt) and artificial intelligence. Some or most of these disruptors need to be addressed in order for any retailer to be successful, he said.
Other speakers at the conference spurred on the independent retailers attending to use technology that accentuates what they are best known for — customer engagement and fresh foods. Gary Hawkins, CEO of CART, a retail technology advisory group, wondered why personalization solutions that support these positive attributes haven’t taken off in the grocery business like they have in other sectors, and quickly provided two reasons. Grocery operator are incremental technology deployers and they always want someone else to pay for their technology solutions. This mindset needs to change, he stated.
There was good news for community retailers at the event. Ron Bonacci, vice president of marketing and advertising at Weis Markets, said the time is ripe for all supermarket operators to invest in digital commerce. “Ecommerce solutions are now available at one-third or one-fourth of the cost of 10 years ago,” he confirmed.
In addition to the cost of ecommerce technology coming down, these solutions can now be implemented with greater ease and less time than ever before. Several speakers suggested that basic digital engagement campaigns, which include social media and digital commerce through text and email, can be up and running in weeks rather than months.
In the end, it’s all about trying to meet the customers where they live, explained Chris Leevers of Leevers Supermarkets, a 17-store chain in Colorado. Retailers need to allocate the right resources to ensure customers are being properly served at a store.
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: How can independent supermarket operators best use technology to compete in today’s crowded grocery marketplace? Do you agree that grocers have been held back while waiting for someone else to pay for technology solutions?