The Slow Death of the Supermarket.

Technology has rapidly changed commerce for the better, it’s time for the grocery industry to step up their game.

Technology Makes for Better Shopping

Shopping has changed incredibly over the past two decades. Of course the internet plays a major part in this transformation, especially now that we can access any information in the palm of our hands. However, If we’ve learned anything about shopping over these years, it’s once technology grants the possibility for another way, people’s habits and preferences have potential to greatly change.

Time for a Wake Up Call

However, here’s the scary part, the traditional supermarket where you frequent for your groceries hasn’t changed much with the times.

Shouldn’t there be an urgency for the world of supermarkets to evolve with the changes in technology?

Supermarkets face unique challenges when thinking about innovation, due to the nature of providing fresh goods. When a product doesn’t spoil it’s one thing, but the variable of expiration dates clearly add a layer of complexity that other retailers don’t have to work through. Also a large percentage of grocery shopping habits are marked by the tendency to carefully examine and compare things like produce and other fresh goods. Many technology innovations provide you the convenience for the sacrifice of up close observation of an item.

The Mobile Experience

The influence of mobile in shopping is more than just a growing minority, but an equal part majority while also showing signs of dominance. A 2013 study by Google, showed that 79% of shoppers use their phone to make shopping decisions, while 89% of that same group use their phone while in store. Many innovative retailers have seen this and have pursued the various opportunities to remind customers that the physical store is not dead, but actually still the best way to shop.

What if supermarkets leveraged an app to enhance the shopping experience with things like:

  • Shopping lists that provide contextual purchase history for items that are needed frequently.
  • Coupon suggestions based on your purchase history, removing the need to “hunt” in order to save money.
  • Product availability, just as many other retailers have done helping you to be aware if any specialty items you need are unavailable at your regular store front.

The good news is many of grocery stores like, Kroger, Wholefoods, Publix and others, offer some of these mobile experiences already.

The Frictionless Experience

“Ah! I’m so busy, and dread going to the store today, but there is no food in the house!”

How many times have you heard or thought that? When many shoppers think about grocery shopping, they think of a crowded and uncomfortable experience that they’d rather not have. Many other retail industries such as electronic and department stores have heard this cry and thought of unique ways to create a more enjoyable shopping experience that’s on the customer’s terms. Take the Apple retail store for example. Any employee in their stores has the ability to check a customer out, or even better if a customer has an iPhone they have the ability to check themselves out! That’s right, customers can checkout their own items right from their phone, no assistance required. Now there might be a few arguments for why this wouldn’t be practical in a supermarket setting, just due to the sheer volume of items typically purchased. The point is Apple figured out a way to create a more frictionless environment even when their stores are crazy busy. All that said though, the self-checkout experience is far from perfected, in many cases a customer still feels awkward and unsure that they are doing it correctly.

Imagine, grocery in-store pickup and just being able to walk in and pickup your bags, or better yet a service where someone brings them to your car! Talk about less friction for the parent with kids. Good news, this already exists, as of November of 2014, Kroger started a pilot program allowing orders to be placed for groceries online and have them delivered to your car upon arrival.

How many times have you had difficulty finding an item? What if there were in-store navigation tools you could access right from your handheld, or even your shopping cart?

Have you ever seen google maps traffic updates? It will notify you where traffic is clear, slowed or stopped, using color coded lines on the map. Couldn’t we use store traffic information to see when the store is very busy and avoid shopping at those times?

The Payoff

When it comes down to it, all businesses desire to grow and retain their customers. A good way to do this is by communicating authentically to your customer that “we have your best interest in mind”. With the changes in technology, companies that never had an advantage now have the opportunity to excel. To some it’s an exciting time to be in business, for others it’s intimidating.

Though it’s possible the hurdles could seem mountainous, for traditional supermarkets, the increasing reality of becoming irrelevant in a world that’s changing could prove to be more threatening. Supermarkets need to make an aggressive decision to become an outlier in the industry, or watch as the new kids on the block become one.

Originally published on Forest Giant’s blog.

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