Technology is the Spice of Food Retailing

It’s hard to believe all the technological advancements made over the past 50 years. From personal computers to smartphones and the internet to 5G, technology has dramatically changed the way we live and shop forever.

In the food retailing industry, we have seen bar code scanning coming into the stores and then self-checkout. There is now e-commerce in almost every retail channel, and robots are taking over many of the tasks formerly conducted by people. One-store operators offer products online, larger retailers have digital rewards programs, and the largest companies are using artificial intelligence to personalize promotions to a segmented set of consumers.

All of this is meant to make it easier for shoppers to buy from your store while making it a little less beneficial for them to shop at the competitor down the street. Which brings me to the state of retail technology today and what food merchants can expect in the near-term future.

Related Article: How to Succeed in Grocery e-Commerce Management

At the recent Groceryshop conference in Las Vegas, several trends were very apparent, including:

  • The future of retail is consistency across buying channels.
  • Retail media is accelerating.
  • Convenience is still front and center for retailers, and technology is making it even easier for shoppers to shop.
  • The extended retail supply chain is being optimized with new tech innovations.
  • Transparency is increasingly important for wellness-focused consumers.
  • Customer retention and acquisition are based on personalization.

I could devote a full column to each of these developments, but the first three stand out as particularly critical for independent and ethnic retailers. Because nearly every shopper has a computer in his or her pocket, merchants need to sell across all the engagement points – in-store, at home, in the office, etc. – to deliver the right messages to the right audience at the right time to create demand. Mixing those messages by having different pricing or providing conflicting promotions can alienate shoppers very quickly.

Retail media is really just advertising or promotions on a retailer’s website or app. It is mostly supported by brands but includes advertising from other companies interested in the retailer’s audiences but doesn’t sell through those retailers. Gartner expects the retail media market to reach $100 billion by 2026. Every retailer needs to get their share.

Convenience has long been a top three shopper demand and now includes the use of mobile and other tools to get through the physical or online store as expeditiously as possible. New technology, including autonomous checkout, can be deployed to address this and all of the other trends for the ultimate benefit of the shopper.

The bottom line is that food retailers, large and small, need to understand the technology available to the customer in assisting with the shopping effort and both the technology available to the store operator to help harness the power of devices shoppers are using AND the systems available to increase the performance of the customer service team.

Only by balancing the resources available with the expectations of the shopper for as seamless an experience as possible can a merchant successfully retain today’s (and tomorrow’s) customers.