Smart queuing, automated replenishment and the grocery sector's future

Bolder innovations from technology companies to reward shopper loyalty and a greater use of in-store tech to improve the customer experience will increasingly feature in the grocery sector over the coming years, a prominent industry voice said this week.

Joanne Denney-Finch, CEO of IGD, the research and training charity for the grocery sector, predicted a supermarket world entailing automated replenishment, smart queuing systems and enhanced click & collect services that allow consumers to engage with brands and avoid perceived mundane shopping processes.

While technological innovations are playing their part in radically altering the wider traditional retail landscape and Denney-Finch is expecting more of this to come in grocery, her view is that the food industry winners of the future will be those that combine this innovative thinking with multiple customer-focused strategies.

"The winners will be those that embrace shopper power, reset standards and redefine concepts from their point of view," she told supermarket and FMCG delegates, who had gathered in London for IGD's annual convention, The Big Debate.

Denney-Finch's keynote speech, which kick-started the proceedings at an event which featured presentations from industry heavyweights such as Tesco CEO Dave Lewis, Asda president Andy Clarke, Sainsbury's CEO Mike Coupe and Morrisons chairman Andy Higginson, drew attention to US retailer Kroger which has reduced average queuing times from four minutes to 30 seconds by using sensors to anticipate queues and summon staff accordingly.

Such analysis of shopper movements is apparently also allowing Kroger to "make radical changes to store layouts".

Meanwhile, the case was put forward for "click & collect plus" services, where staple groceries are ready to be collected when shoppers arrive at stores and more internal space is freed up to promote occasional purchases via sampling stands and demonstrations.

"And there are other ways to help manage staples, an Amazon Dash device, for adding products to a shopping list, regular home deliveries on subscription and eventually, smart storage that reorders automatically," Denney-Finch noted.

"These are all ways to lock customer in and I predict tomorrow's manufacturers will reinforce this, using technology to reward repeat purchases. The more times you buy, the better the price – which is how it should be."

Figures from IGD research show that three-quarters of grocery shoppers are very satisfied with their overall experience and the quality of products, while a third feel they have more to choose from compared to last year. But cultural change is here, defined by a world of instant messaging and on-demand entertainment, and supermarkets will be required to keep up with the pace to ensure they maintain their relevance to the modern shopper.

"There's radical change ahead, as shoppers continue to call the tune in our industry," the CEO warned.

"The big weekly shop will keep getting smaller. People are shopping more frequently than ever for their food and groceries, but 36% would still shop even more often if their finances allowed it."

She added: "While this poses a major challenge for superstores, which are designed around a big weekly shop, retailers and their suppliers are already reconsidering how to use their floor space to make their customers' lives better and respond to cultural change.

"They are reducing the unnecessary complexity by decreasing the number of products available and improving layouts. It's starting to work, with over half of superstore users feeling their enjoyment of shopping has improved, and yet more potential for superstores to really capitalise on this."

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