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Six Ways Retailers Can Keep Pace With E-Commerce Giants

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Shoppers may be returning to brick-and-mortar stores, but even as countries return to some semblance of normalcy, many consumers who have gone digital over the past year have no intention of returning to their ways of old.

Indeed, nearly four in 10 grocery shoppers plan to continue doing at least some of their shopping online even after they’re fully vaccinated — a share that may rise amid the spread of Covid-19 variants.

While much remains uncertain, what’s beyond dispute is that success in the new grocery landscape demands seamless, tech-savvy customer experiences both online and offline. Yet the shift toward digital technology could concentrate power in the hands of industry giants whose market share is expanding based on the premise that they offer greater e-commerce expertise than regular stores.

Here’s how businesses can achieve omnichannel success without depending on major corporations.

Recognize The Nature Of The Beast

Third-party providers are ideal for a short-term fix to manage an instant digital transition, but this comes at a cost: The provider might initially drive traffic and revenues, but very soon, the customers could be the provider’s rather than your own.

Say that a shopper’s regular grocer is no longer available on a third-party platform. Based on trends in consumer behavior, there’s a good chance the shopper would transfer their loyalty to the provider and stop shopping with their regular retailer.

Understand The Customer Base

If third-party service providers aren’t the answer, what is?

There’s no one-size-fits-all solution. Retailers’ identities are the products of years of painstaking work, creative marketing decisions and other factors, including location, customer demographics and value proposition.

Therefore, just because a competitor has enjoyed ostensible success through a third-party provider doesn’t mean your store will also. Personalization — powered by AI-driven technologies — can translate your specific customer base into market impact.

Develop Independent E-Commerce Solutions

Once you’ve mapped out which sectors you’re targeting, your store can implement e-commerce solutions that align with your needs.

To go about this, you should ensure your e-commerce systems are seamlessly integrated with your internal systems — including point of sale, ERP and customer loyalty — to generate rich, contextual and relevant customer engagement across all touchpoints. Data on individual customer preferences and behavior, product performance and more can help optimize inventory, serve seamless customer journeys and keep shoppers coming back both online and in-store. As the business scales up, this data should be accessible via a live business intelligence dashboard to help make the right tactical and strategic decisions.

Transform Shopping Into An Adventure

In-store grocery shopping is a sensory experience. That’s not necessarily enough in today’s hybrid environment, yet with smart investments in technology and a willingness to experiment, retailers can add even more pizazz to brick-and-mortar.

Grocers shouldn’t invest in technology simply for technology’s sake. If it isn’t removing customer pain points and making the shopping experience more enjoyable and efficient, it’s likely not worth the investment.

What will work? Imagine a store where shoppers select fresh produce themselves while placing orders for other items that can be picked at an in-store micro-fulfillment center. Upon arriving at the checkout, the rest of the customer’s order will wait for them there. Such an experience allows the customer to focus on picking products where the human touch is most important while the store handles the rest — the best of both worlds.

Virtual and augmented reality, meanwhile, can infuse the shopping experience with cutting-edge experiences that provide meaningful value to the shopper, including overlays of relevant product information, personalized promotions and nutritional alerts (e.g., high fat or sodium levels) and guided store journeys. AI-based personalization should also incorporate in-store data so that experiences are even more finely tailored than if stores used only online data.

As with any new technology, retailers will likely encounter both successes and setbacks. That’s why a solid foundation of data analytics is key, as it can help grocers gauge which investments are paying off and where they may need to fine-tune their strategies.

Leverage Wholesalers And CPGs

CPGs and wholesalers understand the power of online channels and are seeking ways to take part in the industry’s digital transformation. Of particular interest are ways they can communicate directly with end customers, receive more customer behavior data, boost brand loyalty and receive more control over advertising and merchandizing.

Retailers can provide relevant data to these partners, and in exchange, retailers can receive trade promotions and shopper marketing funds to support e-commerce activity and increase profitability.

Improve The Last-Mile Experience

A big part of meeting customer expectations is eliminating last-mile delivery challenges. According to a 2020 McKinsey study, one in five shoppers has switched grocers due to fulfillment problems. How can you avoid such a scenario?

First, you should build the infrastructure for fully automated fulfillment — potentially starting with manual pickers but also including robotic solutions that enhance efficiency and save costs.

Retailers should also consider partnering with a last-mile technology provider with the capabilities necessary to rapidly fulfill orders and should think about ways of adding a personalized touch. For instance, by pairing the same picker and delivery person to the same customer on every purchase to improve the customer’s sense of trust and reliability.

When searching for technology partners to help ease the transition into hybrid operations, it’s vital for grocers to ask the right questions — both internally and in their meetings with prospective partners — about third parties’ business models. Are they likely to harness retailer data to one day gain a competitive advantage, or are they focused on developing solutions that empower their customers to succeed both now and in the long-term?

In the brave new world of grocery, retailers face huge challenges and opportunities which can make it tempting to turn to a third party. Yet the grocers that not only survive but thrive will be those that manage to successfully build their own capabilities and offer effortless, eye-popping experiences across channels. Now’s the time to get started.

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