Is Digitizing the Supermarket Necessary?

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Is Digitizing the Supermarket Necessary?

11/17/2015

Retailers are launching online grocery shopping programs because enough of their customers dislike trudging through stores or lack the time to do so. They prefer to have food and beverages delivered to their home or wait at the store’s curb for pick-up.

Meanwhile, grocers still have a huge investment in physical stores. So it’s no surprise that many of them are digitizing their supermarkets to make them more attractive to shoppers.

“Digitizing the supermarket” means testing and rolling out a wide variety of devices designed to make shopping easier, faster, more efficient and more enjoyable. Stores are outfitted with beacons to beam coupons to shoppers’ smartphones. Electronic Shelf Labels (ESLs) provide dynamic pricing. Digital signage adds pizzazz to the supermarket setting. Scanning and bagging groceries while shopping the store saves time at checkout. 

Will these “improvements” make grocery shopping more attractive to consumers? It’s too early to say for sure, but it’s certainly a step in the right direction to bring supermarkets into the 21st century.  

The linchpin of these technologies is the mobile phone. Most people own a smartphone and carry it with them wherever they go. But keep an eye on Gen Z, the cohort of people born after the Millennial generation. They will be the grocery shoppers of the future, and they already carry smartphones.

Of course, not every supermarket retailer is testing these new technologies. Many operate on thin margins and are reluctant to invest in digital improvements until they are proven and accepted by most shoppers. Some grocers argue that customers want to get in and out of the store quickly. They don’t have time to scan QR codes or do mobile research on the nutritional attributes of a new product on the shelf. Still others don’t believe a critical mass of customers is shopping ― or wants to shop ― while clutching a smartphone.

Rather than invest in digital, these grocers prefer to focus on the right assortments, clean stores and outstanding customer service. And there’s nothing wrong with that formula, which has proved to be successful around the country for decades.

But remember Gen Z, the folks who will be buying most of the groceries in the future as they mature and start families? They will be the true digital generation and will be attracted to the digitized supermarket. Chances are these new grocery shoppers will drive past a clean, well-lighted place and stock up where they can get a digital coupon sent to their smartphone.

Here’s the bottom line: Grocers need to invest in digital technologies today or risk being left behind tomorrow. 

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