Customers looking for convenience, the rise of the discounters and the emergence of new technologies are the three key challenges facing today's food retailing industry, according to Waitrose managing director Mark Price.
Speaking last week at the grocer's new Swindon store, Price argued that Waitrose is "competing on all of these fronts" and said that his business is "going to be everything the discounters aren't" as it looks to continue increasing sales and its market share in the coming months.
The managing director said that the new Swindon store, which opened last month, has brought together many of the new innovations and in-store systems that the company has been trialling in various parts of its business over the last year. These new initiatives include the supermarket's first juice bar and a number of "grazing areas" where customers can try food and drink on the go, as well as various technological advancements, such as digital signage and in-store tablets.
In-store tablet devices
The new Swindon store includes various tablet stations around the store, where customers can find out extra information about Waitrose's products and services. This is particularly prominent around the beers, wines and spirits (BWS) section, where shoppers can use the technology to discuss their needs alongside trained staff.
There are also touchscreen devices placed in areas for customers to sit down and engage with the brand, giving shoppers access to a range of Waitrose's online services in the store environment (see picture below).
Digital signage and screens
Waitrose Swindon has a transparent LCD screen in its BWS area, which senior staff have described as providing "retail theatre". The screen is placed in front of the actual product, which in Swindon's case was a bottle of red wine, and it displays visuals designed to entice the customer to make a purchase.
In the café area of Waitrose Swindon, the retailer is also looking to introduce customers to Waitrose TV with the introduction of big screens and touchscreen devices that broadcast Waitrose cooking shows and allow shoppers to interact with digital content (see pictures below).
In-store eCommerce and mCommerce
Waitrose is planning to introduce its Quick Check service, which allows customers to scan goods as they shop, on smartphones. The grocer said that this may be linked to geo-location technology that can raise awareness of special offers in certain parts of the store. Any mobile data created can be transferred to the in-store Quick Check devices, via The Cloud, in the event of a customer's phone battery running out.
Other trials are being undertaken using iBeacon technology, that could allow customers to receive personalised messaging to their phones if they choose to opt in via a mobile app. Ultimately, the company also hopes to allow customers to pay for goods on their mobile phones as they make their way around the store – this would be for goods that can be consumed in-store at the various "grazing" points the supermarket is considering introducing across its wider estate.
Waitrose IT director Cheryl Millington said: "We're doing a lot on mobile payment – we think it's going to be very important."
Online shoppers at Waitrose are now being put in touch with their local stores, if they have queries, with the idea being to open up communication between customers and the people who actually pick the stock for eCommerce orders. Investment has also been made in a new fleet of vans that can stay on the road for longer due to more advanced freezer systems (see pictures below).
New in-store features
As well as the launch of its juice bar concept, Waitrose is looking to raise the profile of its horticultural products, with the introduction of dedicated areas for flowers and gardening ranges. Close to 200 stores now have an extended horticultural presence, including Swindon, where the retailer has cleared a space at the front of its store for this part of its business (see picture below).
It is clear that Waitrose is putting a lot of focus on innovation, and is looking to blend a number of new physical store initiatives with some of the latest technological advancements.
Millington said that the company is following a "fail-fast" policy, as not everything the company is trialling will be rolled out to its supermarket portfolio. Much of the technology the business is considering introducing is around bringing the digital elements of the Waitrose offering into stores to create what the IT director described as "a joined-up experience" for customers.
Some of the developments, particularly around the mobile commerce and smartphone-based systems, are apparently in the latter stages of testing, so could be introduced to stores before the end of the year.
"Technology is about efficiency, but more importantly, it's how we use the information it gives us about our customers," explained Millington.
"We're developing technology that fits with our brand and our customers. It's about agile and iterative development."