February 1, 2023
My grandfather was a supermarket operator in New Jersey and he knew the best customers in each of his stores. He would often chat with them in the aisle, chatting about their lives, families and needs. If anyone likes to make their own pickles, she’ll give away a bag of Kirby cucumbers for free. He wants to make sure they never have a reason to shop elsewhere.
I’ve always thought that if a tech company can capture that essence and become a true merchant, they have something really unique to offer food retailers. Genius in a retail bottle.
At the recent FMI Midwinter conference in Orlando, the focus was on technologies that help retailers improve the customer experience. Attendees were told that even more mechanical innovations such as store automation must be viewed through the lens of how they will help attract shoppers. As Charlie McWeeney, vice president of technology, innovation and strategy at Wakefern Food Corporation, points out, retailers need to “offload repetitive tasks off employees’ plates and empower them to elevate the customer experience.”
Perhaps the industry needs to look at customer experience in a new way. Instead of replacing merchants with technology, we should empower store personnel with the right tools to appropriately engage shoppers when, where and how they are most receptive. Provide store associates with detailed information on attracting customers and the ability to reward them with incentives that may generate desired loyalty and increased share of wallet.
Randy Edeker, executive chairman of Hy-Vee, told me at the FMI event: “We’re talking about surprising the customer, so it’s that first impression, the moment that gets them into the retail environment, that’s key.” He’ll talk to me Grandfather got along very well.
Discussion question: Which technological innovations will best help supermarket operators attract customers? What skills training or other steps will ensure that employees freed from repetitive tasks can participate in activities that improve the customer shopping experience?
“Technology freeing up employees to interact with shoppers? Come on.”