Shopping Experiences Have DIstinct Digital Needs

The shopping experience continues to change and involve with the latest technology.  Many articles tout new digital breakthroughs affecting the shopping experience. But once you understand the offering, there seems to be a real disconnect.  Many don’t realize there are very different types of shopping experiences, with each having different issues/hurdles.  It’s easy to see by channel—where consumers by their products for their daily needs: grocery, drug and mass merchandisers, and what I call “mall retail” like Macy’s and Best Buy.  

Even with crossover, each has its own quirks and ability to test new technology easily. I’ve met with a number of digital companies that don’t seem to understand the needs of the class of trade they are targeting with their product/innovation. (Many entrepreneurs don’t seem to shop at supermarkets on a regular basis.) My experience has been with CPGs, so I’m going to focus on the grocery, drug and mass merchandising channel.  

There is a big disparity as to where this channel is when it comes to digital.  It’s changing so fast, and many retailers are doing their best to keep up. But they also have to worry about the day-to-day running of their actual stores. This alone is a full-time job.  It’s not all about converting consumers from brick-and-mortar to e-commerce.

While many are investing in these areas, they tend to have smaller groups trying to tackle the latest innovations and need to prioritize. Do they upgrade their internal systems or do they have someone monitoring their Facebook page?  (I realize this is an exaggeration, but it comes down to tradeoffs.) 



If the digital innovation affects what happens in store, then the next priority is about the speed of the check-out aisle, educating their staff so they can answer questions, and potentially getting Wi-Fi connectivity inside the store.  (Not always reliable.)  If the innovation ends up sending more people to customer service, then it’s a big problem.

Don’t get me wrong; many retailers are doing a great job. Ahold’s Scan It program is a big step forward. It has revolutionized the way people shop.  Scan It has made the shopping experience personal and efficient.  Using their smartphones, consumers can scan their products, get offers based on where they are in the store and their shopping history and then check out relatively seamlessly. 

While they haven’t done it yet, I assume that fuller, branded messaging is to come. Since Catalina just acquired it, I’m sure we’ll be hearing more about it.  It’s currently only in Stop and Shop.  (On a personal note, once I used this technology, I changed where I buy my groceries locally so I could use it regularly.)

Many retailers are investing in apps to help with the pre-shopping and in-store experience. To name just a few: Walgreens, Meijers, ShopRite and Safeway have apps that help consumers order prescriptions, get coupons, create shopping lists, find recipes and look at circulars. (They don’t all do all of these things, but many do.)  All these elements are helpful in planning, as well as the actual shopping experience.  

Like most brands, retailers are looking for ways to connect with consumers in meaningful ways to keep their customers loyal.  Safeway’s Just for U program encourages loyalty by offering coupons and excellent overall savings, based on the shopping history of their consumers. They are working hard to educate consumers on their digital offerings and making digital their first choice in taking advantage of the offers.  

As digital continues to evolve, we may see that not all shopping technology is right for all kinds of retailers. We need to be careful of headlines that talk about “revolutionizing shopping,” when they are only going to revolutionize one type of retailer.   

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