Retailer focus: Sainsbury's and its technology evolution

The same principles that supermarkets apply to a shop refit should be considered when making changes to a grocery retailer's website and multichannel offering, according to Alex Wright, online & digital business solutions manager at Sainsbury's.

Speaking on an industry panel this week on the subject, 'Dynamics of the new consumer – How we are shopping and spending', Wright gave an insight into Sainsbury's approach to new technology and eCommerce development, suggesting that it's a case of "evolution not revolution" to ensure customers maintain a familiarity with the brand and its offering.

The grocer is currently enhancing its transactional website, which is due to be completed by April 2014, but this week's event investigated the growing range of platforms that retailers like Sainsbury's are now considering in order to react to new customer behaviours.

Payment methods – whether it's digital wallets, NFC-enabled transactions or scan & go technologies – are a huge talking point in the modern retail environment, and there is a growing momentum behind mobile payment and loyalty solutions becoming widely adopted across the industry in 2014.

The lack of mass-market adoption in the UK to date can be attributed to a variety of factors, including a fragmented vendor landscape and retailer concerns over consistency at the point of sale, as well as the sheer breadth of options available.

Organisations such as mobile operators group GSMA are aiming to create a clear pathway for wider adoption of these technologies in the retail space, but until that happens, retailers will be cautious about taking the plunge. Sainsbury's Wright expressed such sentiment at Wednesday's event.

"Due to our high volume, low margin business, it's hard to be an early mover [in terms of new payment technology implementation] – so we will always follow," he noted.

"But once we've identified a winning strategy we'll move quickly on it."

One area where Sainsbury's is trialling cutting-edge technology is with its in-store mobile scan & go system, which allows customers to scan their shopping in the aisles using an app on their own mobile phone before transactions are completed at a self-service checkout. The service is currently in use in four stores, and feedback so far has reportedly been positive.

Much of the conversation at this week's event centred on the importance of retailers joining up their different consumer channels, and Wright hypothesised that the scan & go tool could play a pivotal role in the cross-channel purchase journey if rolled out to more stores in the future. He also highlighted multiple benefits – with customers able to use their own device and Sainsbury's able to keep their costs down.

"One can imagine that this could connect online and in-store, using it across channels," the business solutions manager explained.

Despite the technology-focused crowd in attendance, one clear message from the panellists was that retailers must ensure the basics are catered for before they invest significantly in new-age tech solutions.

Kantar's EMEA retail insights director Bryan Roberts, another member of the industry panel, said: "A lot of technology is good from a marketing perspective, rather than a commercial one.

"Use technology to fix the basics before trying the space age stuff."

The panel discussion took place at the Talking Payments/Fieldworks Connections' event 'Dynamics of the new consumer – How we are shopping and spending'. The panel members were, as follows: Alex Wright, online & digital business solutions manager at Sainsbury's; Bryan Roberts, retail insights director EMEA at Kantar; Raja Ray, product management director at VeriFone; Alison Hutchinson, CEO at The Pennies Foundation.