Grocery retail remains an essential service despite the economy, but that doesn’t mean that retailers in the grocery sector can afford to sit out the technology arms race. Like it or not, tech has become enjoined with retail marketing, and the grocery sector must find ways to innovate to attract shoppers and keep customers. The intelligent integration of tech tools and solutions will make all the difference in the coming years. As evidence of this, major retailers like Amazon continue their tech evangelism while touchless self-checkout options are quickly becoming an expected convenience.
Amazon’s first Go store opened to the public in 2018, but development of the concept began three years prior. Amazon Go stores allow shoppers to enter, select items, and leave without interacting with a point of sale. Instead, merchandise is scanned as customers shop, articulated pose recognition determines what items are picked up, and charges are automatically added to the customer’s total. Sensors, a huge array of cameras, machine learning, AI, and Alexa integration factor into the convenience of this shopping experience. While the idea is innovative and displays new possibilities for retailers burdened by too few staff and limited POS stations, the rollout of Amazon Go stores hasn’t expanded as quickly as some had hoped.
The initial attempt at implementing the Go store concept has hit some roadblocks, namely the refusal to accept cash at stores, but the company has stated that it has learned valuable lessons and still believes in the concept. In fact, Amazon CEO Andy Jassy has recently said that Amazon is evaluating price points, selection, and other factors to fine-tune the shopping experience. Amazon Go is still a priority for the company, and it plans to double down on its efforts in 2023.
At the same time, Amazon is also retooling its Amazon Fresh stores. Amazon purchased Whole Foods Market in 2017, allowing for a larger brick-and-mortar footprint across the United States. Although the concept has not expanded at the rate initially anticipated, Amazon’s proprietary Dash Cart remains the crowning jewel of the Amazon Fresh experience.
Like the company’s Go stores, the Dash Cart inventories a shopper’s selections as they are placed into a physical shopping cart for a virtually transactionless shopping experience.
Although Amazon Fresh stores have grown more slowly than many had anticipated, it’s worth noting that much of this growth occurred during the Covid-19 pandemic. Amazon’s grocery retail has experienced a growth rate of around 10% since the purchase of Whole Foods Market, and the company’s physical retail presence only accounts for a little over 3% of Amazon as a whole. The Dash Cart innovation sets Fresh Stores apart for now, but it wouldn’t be surprising to anyone in the industry if these types of technologies became more readily accessible through third-party vendors in the future.
Convenience retailer Circle K (parent company Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc) has recently begun using innovative touchless self-checkout systems in some of its stores. While Circle K is not alone in implementing these POS innovations, the fact that the concept is catching on should tell retailers about the future direction of retail tech – that being one of removing barriers to purchase while promoting the in-store retail experience.
These POS systems, manufactured by Mashgin, use a scanning system that automatically inventories a shopper’s purchases when these purchases are placed inside the checkout area. The total is displayed and transferred to the payment system where the customer can tap their credit or debit card to complete the payment. Then, a receipt is generated, and the customer is free to take their items and leave.
What started as a way to keep shoppers safe during Covid has now become an expected convenience. Even smaller chains like North Carolina-based Food Lion (parent company Ahold Delhaize) have followed the lead of larger retailers by adding self-checkout stations in many of their stores.
Machine learning is also being used by major retailers like Walmart to forecast demand, and emerging engagement technologies allow shoppers to learn about product details while shopping. By picking up a product, in-store systems provide information about the product, nutrition information for food items, and also recipes in which food items can be used.
Store navigation is also changing as SMS-based technologies are able to provide shoppers with directions to locate items they have looked up on their smartphones while shopping. This is helpful in keeping shoppers engaged as the inability to find a product often leads to shoppers leaving without making a purchase.
Although it’s easy to look at the above examples and immediately begin to wonder if your store needs to invest in more tech, it’s probably better to evaluate why your store may need tech innovations. What is the ROI on the investment, and are you investing for the right reasons? Namely, can you boost the customer experience and provide a higher level of service with tech? Can your store be more productive using automation software, or are you blindly investing based on recent retail news?
More importantly, what are your customers’ expectations? In 2023, tech is expected among most retail customers, but more importantly, you need to ask how tech innovations are enhancing the customer experience. Do you include tech in your retail marketing strategy just because your competition is doing so, or are you implementing tech as an actual retail marketing solution that solves a problem?
In October 2022, Mood Media conducted a study to gauge consumer sentiment regarding retail and the brick-and-mortar experience. The study found that shoppers are eyeing a return to physical retail in a big way due to the ability to get purchases right away. It’s funny how online shopping once promised the convenience of not visiting a store to shop, but now the tables have turned. Today, customers want their purchases as quickly as possible, so you need to make sure your store’s tech investments follow this line of thinking.
The evidence is clear: retailers and customers are moving toward a hybrid approach to retail shopping. This hybrid approach offers the convenience of online shopping while providing the immediate gratification of purchasing in person. Touchless self-checkout systems work much like an online POS, but the ability to still get the brick-and-mortar experience is what customers crave. Innovative retailers are meeting customers in the middle through the use of tech, which is the way of the future.
In-store demo experiences and experiential marketing technology are crucial in meeting customer expectations. An in-store demo or store sampling experience prompts fast action by customers since these events build a sense of urgency. Shoppers see products being demonstrated and can then purchase them on the spot.
The use of technology in automating field marketing event management makes it easier to schedule demo campaigns that connect customers to CPG brands. This improves retention rates and retail sales per square foot dramatically, particularly when this technology is applied consistently over time. Store demo experiences that are intelligently planned based on data must be uniformly executed in multiple stores to produce the aforementioned customer retention benefits and increased sales per square foot. Studies consistently show that customer engagement is a leading factor when building store loyalty. As we’ve covered previously, store loyalty, not product loyalty, is what counts during times of economic uncertainty, like what the United States is experiencing right now.
Customers also want to share their experiences on social media. Whether done in-store or after a purchase, social sharing can significantly enhance your store’s ability to garner word of mouth marketing online and increase brand awareness. You can encourage social sharing using technology by creating various stations around your store that give a reason to take pictures and share them.
Your vendors can often help create these kinds of in-store promotion stations, so ask them what options are available. They may even be able to provide you with marketing ideas you hadn’t considered before using various field marketing assets. You can also consider creating QR codes to print out and hang around certain store sections to give your shoppers easy access to product nutrition information or recipe websites that feature each product.
You can also use experiential marketing technology to improve engagement opportunities while giving customers the experience they’re after. For example, many retailers utilize a concept we’ve created where under-utilized employees can work alongside CPG brands to assist with experiential marketing initiatives. Store demo software makes it easy for retailers to manage this move, and retailers can place employees in positions where they can significantly impact customer engagement when these employees are not assigned to store duties.
Workers gain the opportunity to earn more money, shoppers get personal attention and engagement, items can be purchased on the spot, and vendors can interface with shoppers to gain WOM marketing opportunities. All of this is facilitated through retail automation software, so there’s less planning and management for retailers. This promotes the convenience of online shopping and gives customers the brick-and-mortar experience studies show they’re seeking.
Demo Wizard plays a crucial role in managing in-store demo experiences. Our retail marketing solution allows retailers and CPG brands to interface more efficiently, making it easy to put experiential marketing at the top of your to-do list.
Schedule your free demo of Demo Wizard to see the difference for yourself. Call (510) 859-8919, or use our convenient contact form to schedule your consultation and demo online right now.