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Grocery Technology Podcast from NRF 2020

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Mercatus Radio presents the Digital Grocer - Season 3, Episode #6

In our last episode recorded at NRF 2020, the team discusses major themes and takeaways from the conference. Two key topics were:

  • the impact of grocery eCommerce on health and wellness, and
  • how to identify a technology solution that will bring value to a grocery retailer’s business.

Thinking back to the podcast interview we had with Ron Bonacci from Weis Markets, we consider his emphasis on the important part retailers play in their customers’ nutritional choices.

Sylvain notes, “Grocery retailers are the first line of defence- and the first line of offence- in terms of your health. That’s fairly critical in this day and age. We’re not getting any younger and we’re dealing with an aging population.”

And while a large part of the population is aging, we’re also seeing a shift in the population’s shopping behaviors. Mark points to how shoppers expect more from retailers nowadays. “Consumers are buying more online and they want to have the information, but they also want the tools to be able to do the thinking for them, so that it’s not a laborious process.”

With so many new technology solutions emerging in the market, the team considers how to identify solutions that provide true value to a grocery retailer’s business. “When a piece of technology lands on [a retailer’s] lap, it needs to be really thought out. It actually needs to be extremely concrete and you need to be able to explain the value proposition clearly to a retailer on how it’s going to help them convince a consumer to add an extra item to the basket, lower their costs, and quite frankly help them increase margin, and ultimately revenue.

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Sylvain Perrier: Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Mercatus’ podcast, Digital Grocer, episode 29 right here live at NRF 2020. I’m Sylvain Perrier President and CEO of Mercatus Technologies, and joining me today is Mark Fairhurst, our Senior Director of Marketing. Mark.

Mark Fairhurst: Hello everyone.

Sylvain Perrier: And we have a bit of a special guest joining us. I don’t think he’s ever been on one of our podcasts, our VP of Client Experience, Frank Laudadio.

Frank Laudadio: How is everyone doing today?

Mark Fairhurst: Oh, he’s got a voice for broadcast.

Sylvain Perrier: He’s got a voice for broadcast. New York has been good to us. NRF has been great for us. It’s been an interesting show. I mean I walked the pavilion at least twice. A lot of interesting stuff that we saw. I think the more interesting thing that we saw in New York is last night we took some clients out to watch the Clemson-LSU game.

Mark Fairhurst: How was that experience?

Sylvain Perrier: It was a great experience. I like a good cigar once in a while. So we ended up going to Soho Cigar on, I can’t remember the name of the street and it’s like a really small street down in Soho obviously. And we walked in and Ray Lewis was sitting in the corner with his entourage. We were promptly told not to take any pictures.

Mark Fairhurst: Yeah, I don’t think he would like that.

Sylvain Perrier: Tim was holding his phone in an awkward way and somebody from the entourage thought he was trying to take a picture. And then we had a special Canadian walk-in.

Mark Fairhurst: And who was that?

Frank Laudadio: Tie Domi.

Mark Fairhurst: Really?

Frank Laudadio: [crosstalk] hockey fans.

Mark Fairhurst: Yeah. Tie Domi from the Leafs. And then we were meeting with John Deanna and Trent Berkshire from Brookshire’s and we spent maybe 45 minutes to an hour together. They had a pretty long day so they came back.

Frank Laudadio: And it was a long day yesterday.

Mark Fairhurst: Doing the trade shows, It can be gruelling.

Sylvain Perrier: It can be gruelling. We made the choice last year when we renewed to come to NRF, to come down to level one. And I think level one is-

Mark Fairhurst: No regrets?

Sylvain Perrier: Absolutely none because level one is one of these special places on the trade show floor where you’re actually going to see more innovation in any case. At the top, they’re bigger corporations, they’re more well established. I think there’s more, I hate to say this, I think there’s more bureaucracy when you’re dealing with those types of corporations. And I think it’s a little bit more difficult to get to the bottom what you’re really trying to achieve in your relationship with your customers. We had a good turnout.

Mark Fairhurst: Yeah, I know the booth traffic has been consistent. We’ve had, I think, most of our clients come by the booth.

Frank Laudadio: Yeah. Let’s face it, we got a great setup here, though.

Mark Fairhurst: Yeah, yeah.

Sylvain Perrier: Yeah.

Mark Fairhurst: Yeah. [inaudible 00:02:46]. It turned out very well. Kudos to the marketing team.

Sylvain Perrier: Yeah, you guys did a great job and we celebrated Emi’s birthday yesterday. Well, you guys did.

Mark Fairhurst: Yes. [crosstalk 00:02:55]. Emi’s on the marketing team.

Sylvain Perrier: Yes, she is on the marketing team.

Mark Fairhurst: She actually makes everything happen.

Frank Laudadio: She makes everything happen.

Sylvain Perrier: Well now you have it on the record folks. So there you go. Was there anything that stood out for you guys at the show? Like anything that you saw?

Frank Laudadio: For me personally, I think it was the traction and the exposure that we were able to get at the booth of our AisleOne product. I thought that was quite astonishing. There was a lot of eyeballs, a lot of people coming to the booth, clients included, really appreciative of, you know what we’ve done and what we brought here to the show. Really exciting.

Sylvain Perrier: And we blitz a bunch of podcasts.

Mark Fairhurst: I think five in total so far.

Sylvain Perrier: Yeah.

Mark Fairhurst: We’ve got one more scheduled for today.

Sylvain Perrier: We do. Yeah. And that’s going to be kind of cool. The one thing that I really appreciated in being here at NRF and kind of Digital Grocer deciding to bring its equipment to do a reporting and so on was the fact that we actually got to interview Ed Wong from Smart & Final. Such an enlightening individual to chat with. We also had a chance to interview Ron Bonacci from Weis Markets. Ron said something that was fairly pivotal in my estimation. It’s this notion of hyper-connectivity with the consumer and this integration of health and wellness that I thought it really resonated with me. I think it will resonate with our audience as well, and it’s not just a notion of using AI for the sake of AI, but it’s the ability to do good with AI, which is a fairly critical.

Mark Fairhurst: And anybody who has any medical or health issue, knowing what you’re putting in your body is critical. And technology that is enabling grocers to be able to better serve their shoppers, their customers with that information and just for us to be a part of it that’s exciting.

Frank Laudadio: You’re just saying that triggered something for me. Grocery retailers are the first line of defence and the first line of offence in terms of your health. That’s fairly critical in this day and age. And we’re not getting any younger, right? And we’re dealing with aging population. Retirement age is going to go up. I think that’s fairly inevitable.

Mark Fairhurst: And consumers are buying more online. They want to have the information, but they also want the tools to be able to do the thinking for them so that they don’t have to be… It’s not a laborious process.

Sylvain Perrier: Right Let me, let me ask you guys a question. At one point, do you go up to an entrepreneur or a business owner who’s trying to do something in this space and say, “I don’t think you’re truly solving a problem,” and maybe that’s the wrong thing to say. The only reason I bring that up, I went to the innovation pavilion and I think ideation and innovation are important because you have to iterate eventually to get to something. I’m seeing a lot of stuff that’s not… I’m not sure if it’s just, “Hey this is cool tech, let’s build it. I think it’s interesting. Let’s spend some money.” There’s some fairly large corporations that are part of that innovation group up there, which I was a bit surprised. I saw some stuff that’s really fundamentally can’t be operationalized. It’s not going to help the consumer. It’s not going to have the retailer to make money. When is that conversation going to happened?

Mark Fairhurst: I mean, you’re often quoted sayings is if it’s a solution we’re looking for a problem.

Sylvain Perrier: Right.

Mark Fairhurst: And I think there’s a lot of private equity, venture capital money pouring into some of these companies-

Sylvain Perrier: That’s true.

Mark Fairhurst: … in the hope that… In many ways it’s like gambling, that you invest and all of a sudden you may land a client and go from there and you start increasing your ARR. Your right is… I feel bad for the retailer sometimes-

Sylvain Perrier: Yeah.

Mark Fairhurst: … walking up and down these aisles. They want to be able to serve the consumers, but at the same time, who’s helping guide them through this morass of technology companies were all promising to solve their problem but not telling them how or why.

Sylvain Perrier: Well, no one. I think that’s the challenge Frank and I deal with this in some instances when we’re visiting prospects. We love all of our prospects, but I think the world needs to understand that a grocer retailer is dealing with, in some cases, 3% margin if not lower. Let me rationalize that for someone that’s not in the grocer retail space: that’s 3 cents on the dollar. Do you know groceries you have to sell to actually make a decent return on everything that you’re doing as a grocer retailer. So when a piece of technology lands on their lap, it needs to be really thought out. It actually needs to be extremely concrete and you need to be able to explain the value proposition clearly to a retailer on how it’s going to help them convince a consumer to add an extra item to the basket, lower their costs, and quite frankly, help them increase margin or ultimately revenue. And I think that’s lacking. Those aspects are lacking. The one thing I didn’t like about this show?

Mark Fairhurst: What was that?

Sylvain Perrier: It’s a little less down here, but the moment you hit the first floor, first of all, it’s a sea of everyone… Felt like I was in a funeral, first of all, because everyone’s wearing a black suit of some sort. So it was very… I’m so anti-corporate, but it’s super corporate upstairs. And at the same time, everyone goes into sales pitch mode.

Frank Laudadio: Yep.

Mark Fairhurst: Right.

Sylvain Perrier: Immediately sales pitch mode: “there’s our business card. How do I get a hold of you? Can I book a meeting with you?” Where’s the dialogue that we try to teach on this podcast? Are we again trying to understand what the retailer needs?

Mark Fairhurst: Yeah. What’s keeping them up at night other than being inundated with the sales pitch from large corporations.

Sylvain Perrier: Yeah. Now we have some interesting stuff that’s going to be happening at Mercatus, I think, in the next little while. We’re probably going to have a major announcement sometime, most likely, beginning of Q2, mid Q2 I hope.

Mark Fairhurst: In spring.

Sylvain Perrier: In spring. Yeah, spring time. That has to be fairly well planned, but in any case, we’re going to be traveling out towards the end of next week. Third week of January. We’re going to FMI mid-winter.

Mark Fairhurst: Yep. Always fun.

Sylvain Perrier: Yeah. Which should be great out in Phoenix, Arizona. Lots of activity that’s going to be happening over there. At some point, we all have to come back to the office. There’s tons of stuff to do. After that, guess we’ll be attending NGA, and I think Kevin Kidd, Director of Product will be going to Shoptalk. I think we may be doing a European show.

Mark Fairhurst: That would be exciting.

Sylvain Perrier: What was the name of that show? Do you remember?

Mark Fairhurst: World Retail Congress at the end of April.

Sylvain Perrier: And it’s an Amsterdam.

Frank Laudadio: In Amsterdam.

Sylvain Perrier: Yeah.

Mark Fairhurst: That’s right.

Sylvain Perrier: Yeah. Which should be interesting. We’re looking potentially forward to doing that event. And then what’s the other show where actually you and I were talking about this with the folks over at-

Mark Fairhurst: Path to Purchase.

Sylvain Perrier: Yeah. Path to Purchase.

Mark Fairhurst: Yeah. So, the fine folks at EnsembleIQ, they actually sought us out and have asked us to be one of their lead sponsors in helping put the program together. The event’s called i3. I don’t think it’s been published online yet.

Sylvain Perrier: No. Yeah, it was serendipitous that we met the new CEO.

Mark Fairhurst: Oh, at the Canadian Thought Leadership-

Sylvain Perrier: Yeah. Which was great. It was in Toronto back in 2019 on November 19th. We connected with some great retailers. We’re going to be hopefully announcing a new Canadian retailer that’s going to become part of the Mercatus family.

Mark Fairhurst: Very soon.

Sylvain Perrier: Very soon.

Frank Laudadio: Very excited.

Sylvain Perrier: So we’re excited about that. And so, we met up with her and she told us about the event. I think that’s in May.

Mark Fairhurst: Yeah, it’s in May. Middle of May?

Sylvain Perrier: Yeah.

Mark Fairhurst: Yeah.

Sylvain Perrier: And then it’s summertime and then we’re going to be going into Las Vegas.

Mark Fairhurst: Back to Groceryshop.

Sylvain Perrier: Groceryshop. Groceryshop’s going to be, I think kind of interesting in terms of as an event for us in any case. I think we’re thinking the format’s going to be a little bit different this year for us. I think we’re debating or debating still if it’s going to be a bit of a booth or something entirely different.

Mark Fairhurst: Yeah. We want to encourage the participation of our ecosystem partners, and the ideas that we shared with them, they all love it. They’re happy to showcase their value proposition in conjunction with Mercatus. We look forward to putting that together.

Sylvain Perrier: Yeah. We did something different at Groceryshop, not Groceryshop, NRF. Already thinking of Las Vegas. That is not right folks. We did something a little bit different in NRF this year. We decided to bring in a partner in our booth.

Mark Fairhurst: That’s right.

Sylvain Perrier: And Spoon Guru out of the UK, out of London.

Mark Fairhurst: Great guys.

Sylvain Perrier: Great guys. The supermarket guru, Phil Lempert works directly with them, which is really exciting. The dynamics between both of our organization because they’re part of the Commonwealth, right? I’ll let you guys Google what that means, but the dynamics between both of our organizations I mean there’s a bit of a symbiotic relationship in the sense that their values are similar to ours.

Mark Fairhurst: Correct.

Frank Laudadio: Right.

Sylvain Perrier: Right? And I find that interesting and because they have a European presence, they’re actually attracting some European retailers. Even in the fact that they work with Tesco, it brings a level of credibility to them that’s amazing. And it attracts some extremely large retailers to our booth. That’s a bit different.

Mark Fairhurst: Yeah. Talking about your comments earlier about companies that are looking for a problem to solve and they come at it from the most memorable intentions, which is solving health problems.

Sylvain Perrier: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Mark Fairhurst: So, it’s great.

Sylvain Perrier: The way that company was created, it was basically, I believe Marcus’ wife, who has celiac disease, and it’s bad enough having that disease, but when you’re trying to change your nutrition plan and the idea was conceived in a conversation over his fence with his neighbor in terms of how to build out this business. And you can tell he’s super passionate about the business. It’s the labor of love. the one thing that we learned in our conversations here, and it has to be restated for our listeners of Digital Grocer. If you’re a retailer and you’re going to embark on the journey of an eCommerce venture, whether you’re doing it today and it’s achieved a certain scale that you didn’t know that it would or you’ve decided years ago to co-opt what you’re trying to do into the hands of a third party and you had zero control, which is very much co-related to our campaign called Back In Charge, right?

Sylvain Perrier: When you take back ownership of the customer, ownership of your data, ownership of your journey. And so, if you’re about to make that big pivot to go back and to revisit what you’re doing and to take control and Ed and Ron what they shared with us was, to quote Ed, “First and foremost, you have to have a strategic plan.”

Mark Fairhurst: Right. You don’t have to have everything buttoned down, but at least know where you want to go.

Sylvain Perrier: We try to encourage, stay away from the tactical process, right?

Frank Laudadio: These leaders, the ones that we come across, I have to tell you, what I find they don’t have, is that fragmented thinking. I find that a lot of people have fragmented thinking. They’re thinking about one specific entity and they can’t really comprehend how the other pieces come into the larger picture. You talked about what we’ve observed here at the show. I think that as I walked around, you see things that are very fragmented and in silo. And then you come by a booth such as ours, and I think it gains a lot of attention because it really is this holistic image of all the facets path to purchase and beyond. And that’s when you’re sitting down with an Ed Wong, you’re sitting down with a Ron Bonacci and you start to really see that expanded thinking process.

Mark Fairhurst: Those are guys that are able connect the dots.

Sylvain Perrier: There are very few of those types of individuals, right? And that’s when you’re building out your strategy plan. Don’t get marred in tactical elements of, “Well, it needs to look this way, it needs to be this color. It needs to be this. And I think to quote Frank at some point Frank used to talk about this is, “Time the value post your strategic plan,” right?

Mark Fairhurst: Right.

Sylvain Perrier: And to get those pieces, how do you get something in market fairly quick and not try to have it perfect out of the gate? Well I’m not saying you should disappoint your customer or chit hamper your operational process. So once you have your strategic plan, I think that kind of the next phase is, you really need to make sure that you bring the right eco system players into the room to be able to execute on your vision.

Sylvain Perrier: And if you look at our work at Smart & Final and the implementation that we launched in mid to late summer in a record time. You had Mercatus, you had GK out of Germany with their team out of Raleigh, you had the folks at Inmar, you had Infosys, you had TCS, and then you had a bunch of ancillary organizations that were involved from a more minor tech perspective, but still critical. I mean you had the folks over at Trevarian to a certain extent. You had Avalara for the tax elements.

Mark Fairhurst: Then the shipping partners.

Sylvain Perrier: TForce, Shipt.

Frank Laudadio: Yeah, there was a lot of moving parts. I think because you kind of talk about this strategic plan. Also the emphasis when you’re dealing with that many partners on the plan around how you’re going to communicate, right? It’s quite difficult in order to really get all of these different facets of the solution to come together and really understand what that main mission of accomplishment looks like and then making sure that when you talk to time to value, time to value is not just about delivering fast, it’s about delivering the right thing fast. So you have to understand in your strategic plan, what is that ROI we’re looking to achieve and how do we, decouple that into a more agile methodology [crosstalk 00:16:58].

Sylvain Perrier: The other piece of advice and you know Ed was talking about this is not be afraid to go get those external unbiased opinions. Like Forrester to review your user interface and leveraging those guys. I think that’s fairly critical. Again, I encourage people to go back and listen to those episodes. So we’re going to wrap it up folks. It was great being here in NRF. I’m sure we’ll be here in 2021 back in New York city. The next step episode that we’re going to be airing, which was recorded at Mouth Media Studio here in New York city while we’re attending NRF, it’s a pretty impactful episode in the sense that it’s our first time actually interviewing an analyst, a marketplace expert.

Mark Fairhurst: Yep. And it was a great conversation and jam-packed with a lot of insects, and he’s the kind of guy that tells it like it is and doesn’t cower to tell it to his clients.

Sylvain Perrier: That’s Mr. Rick-

Mark Fairhurst: Watson.

Sylvain Perrier: Watson, yeah. Rick’s this proliferate guy in LinkedIn. I would suggest that you guys, before you listen to the episode, go connect with him on LinkedIn. It’ll be interesting because we get into some conversations around Walmart, around Amazon and FedEx. And I would encourage you guys, when you listen to the episode, just to see what’s going to materialize between now and then.

Mark Fairhurst: Maybe some prognostication.

Sylvain Perrier: I think so. I think we’re becoming a little bit good at that. I don’t know.

Mark Fairhurst: Yeah, yeah.

Sylvain Perrier: It’s been amazing guys podcasting here. Thank you so much, Frank, appreciate you joining us.

Frank Laudadio: Thank you very much. You guys are wonderful to talk to.

Sylvain Perrier: Because we don’t talk [crosstalk 00:18:34]-

Frank Laudadio: Yeah, yeah, yeah, exactly. And Mark, how do people get ahold of us?

Mark Fairhurst: Go to our website, mercatus.com. Access our social channels. We’d love to hear from everyone.

Frank Laudadio: Yeah. And if you guys have any questions, I think, don’t hesitate. Either submit a comment through LinkedIn or through any of our channels, quite frankly. Or if you think there’s a subject you’d like for us to do a deep dive on, don’t hesitate in asking. We’d love to tackle it. Folks, thank you so much for tuning in and look forward to having you guys download our next episode. Peace.


Sylvain Perrier

Sylvain is president and CEO of Mercatus Technologies, and the driving force behind the leading digital commerce platform in grocery retail today.

Mark Fairhurst

As Senior Director of Marketing at Mercatus, Mark is responsible for leading the overall market strategy development, planning and execution to support Mercatus' multi-year revenue growth and customer acquisition and retention objectives.

Frank Laudadio portrait

Frank Laudadio

As VP of Client Experience at Mercatus, Frank ensures that every Mercatus client has the knowledge and tools they need to achieve their goals and derive maximum value from the Mercatus platform. With over 15 years’ experience of managing customer-facing engagements, his results-driven and collaborative approach has empowered customers to achieve their best.