In our digital age, where goes the consumer, so goes the retailer.
For better or worse, technology is driven by demand. As advanced technology continues to infiltrate almost every area of our lives, people have come to expect their customer experiences to play out like the kinds of shopping events usually relegated to sci-fi movies or some of the more sophisticated video games.
And so it seems like every day, big-name corporations in digital technology and computing launch new smart apparel, appliances, vehicles and retail models that are meant to make lives, better, faster, easier… and consumers are buying-in at increasing rates.
Now, if there’s one thing we’ve learned over our 14 years of working in digital commerce, it’s that if consumers want something, retailers would be wise to listen—and act. And that’s exactly what we’re seeing in the grocery industry, where technology is among the top three concerns for more grocers, who are having to compete with digital heavy-hitters like Amazon for their share of consumers’ ever-tighter budgets. In fact, it’s so top-of-mind for grocery retailers that nearly three in four of those surveyed in Progressive Grocer’s annual “Report of the Grocery Industry” plan to increase their technology spend in 2018. Tech innovations for marketing and merchandising top the priority list, with tactics like improved in-store signage/digital media (71 percent), digital marketing (68 percent) and mobile marketing (58 percent) taking the majority of the planned budgets. Meanwhile, more than half of the grocers surveyed are already offering mobile shopping app technology to facilitate their shoppers’ buying journeys, though smaller chains are further behind than larger ones when it comes to offering fully integrated omnichannel shopping solutions.
How well are your retail technological tools meeting your customers’ needs?
Regardless of where you find yourself on the map of business size and maturity, there’s no denying that if you’re in the grocery industry, you’ve got to maintain a certain level of technological infrastructure to be able to keep up with customer demands.
But to build a scalable, technology-centric retail business that’s able to grow even amidst the ups and downs of our marketplace, it’s important to keep sight of all of the moving parts that make stores successful, including your business goals, the key players involved in driving your brand forward, and the processes you enlist to make it happen.
Use these six focus areas to prioritize your business needs before you make any high-stakes tech decisions:
- Vision, goals and strategies (now and in the future) – What are we trying to accomplish with our business, and what technological tools do we need to invest in to help us stay competitive now and in the next five to ten years? Any consideration of digital transformation must necessarily begin with a clear-eyed vision of what the business is trying to accomplish, both now and in the coming years. Start by asking such questions as: What are our revenue targets now and in the next five to ten years? What’s not working with our business right now that we think we can change using new or emerging technological tools or systems? What technology makes sense for our current business, and for the business we plan to build to in the future? Only once you’ve created a clear vision for the future and articulated a formal case for change will you be able to develop a scalable digital transformation plan that can reliably deliver value against your new technology investment.
- Key players – Who needs to be involved in various stages of the process? Consider the full workback schedule, to determine which key stakeholders and leaders will need to provide input and/or sign-off at important stages of the process. Steps will likely include, but are by no means limited to:
- vetting different partners, solutions, tech specs and requirements, SLAs and more;
- the final decision-making process and sign-off;
- any technological development work required to tie new platforms or solutions to current or legacy systems;
- user interface (UI), user experience (UX) and reliability testing;
- training of any and all staff who may come in contact with the new technology, from back-office IT personnel through to front-line staff and customer service representatives).
- Communicating change – How will we keep (internal and external) stakeholders informed of our business change(s)? While you’re compiling your list of key stakeholders, be sure to include your marketing and sales team members—the people who work tirelessly to communicate your brand message day-in and day-out. Why? Because clear and consistent communication is crucial to maintaining loyalty and buy-in of consumers, employees, and even suppliers and industry partners. And in absence of factual communications, people will tend to create their own stories, and rumours can quickly derail the communication process.
Working well in advance of the system launch, you’ll want to socialize benefits of the new technology among shoppers and customer prospects, as well as internally, from board members and C-suite executives through to every front-line employee, sharing information as plainly and completely as possible, while avoiding getting bogged down in too much technical detail.
Once the new technology is up and running, use both online as well as non-digital tools (think: email and text notifications; inserts in shipped purchases; in-store signage) to communicate the benefits your customers can expect to receive over time.
Then, as consumers begin to recognize the real value of your new technology (e.g., they’re able to collect loyalty points more quickly, or perhaps they can take advantage of discounts more easily using a new mobile app), capitalize on that momentum, using social media channels to shine a spotlight on shoppers who are particularly invested in your brand.
- Funding – Whose budget is this coming out of? Depending on your funding models, your company’s grocery eCommerce investment could come out of Marketing or IT budgets, or possibly even Sales or Operations coffers. So, it’s best to investigate which departments will be footing the bill for the new technology well before you sign on the dotted line.
Keep in mind, too: Depending on factors like the type of system or technology you’re looking to introduce and your vendor partner’s service model, you’ll likely need to plan for the initial procurement plus ongoing management fees, updates, and so on.
- Operations – Are our business processes, team capacities and operating models ready for the business changes that are likely to develop as a result of bringing on new eCommerce technology? From procurement, warehousing and shipping capabilities to back-end office functioning to front-line engagement with shoppers and handling of customer service issues and beyond, no area of a grocery business is left untouched by new technology development and integration.
Pay careful attention to the areas of your business that are most likely to be affected by the introduction of new eCommerce technology, including IT, procurement, operations, logistics and other departments, as they’re more likely to feel overburdened and under-supported during times of extreme change. And if you’re concerned that those teams could be particularly hard-hit, consider enlisting third-party consultants or outsourced help to see them through ramp-up and roll-out phases, until they’re able to settle back into some form of “business as usual.”From procurement, warehousing and shipping capabilities to back-end office functioning to front-line engagement with shoppers and handling of customer service issues and beyond, no area of a grocery business is left untouched by new technology development and integration.
- Security and privacy – How secure are our IT systems and what do we need to do to manage our security protocols over time? Consumers are willing to share personal information with retailers, especially if it leads to more personalized and relevant buyer journey. But all that data-sharing can come at a cost—the risk of hacking is ever present, and could become an even bigger risk as cyber attackers become more sophisticated and more consumer data is collected and stored. You’ll want to ensure that any business-critical data (including retail sales information and customer account details and identifiers like credit card numbers and access codes) is safeguarded from potential cyberattacks; that your entire staff are trained on your company’s data security and privacy protocols; and that these protocols are regularly reviewed and updated, so they provide a rock-solid defence for any potential threats that may arise in the future.
While you’re at it: If you’re accepting credit card payments, you’ll need to verify that any mechanisms you use to store, process and transmit cardholder data are protected, and that the data is securely managed and processed by a PCI compliant hosting provider.
In a competitive market, grocers need to be able to take advantage of every opportunity to differentiate themselves from their closest retail competitor. Digital innovations are one such differentiator, because the types of applications we’ve seen in the grocery industry work to enable better customer experiences that can win shopper loyalty over time.
The next time you’re considering bringing in new retail technology for your grocery business, remember that old saying: “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” By planning ahead and making sure that you’ve got all of your internal systems and teams aligned, engaged, and working towards a common goal, you’ll increase your chances of success and be much better prepared to weather the ups and downs of the retail industry in the months and years to come.
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