For thousands of years, markets have been at the center of communities. Shoppers went to market to buy, see and hear about what was new, and in many ways to dream of something better. Not so long ago, small neighborhood groceries, run by local “experts” like my grandfather, provided help, service, social news (a.k.a. gossip) and introductions to new and better things.
My grandfather’s store, Roxy’s Market, was a small grocery in the East Bronx: think Sam Drucker from Green Acres. The man knew everything and everyone, and shoppers came away from their trips to his store richer in many ways. They left with so much more than a bag of flour; they came away with my grandmother’s special one-egg cake recipe that they could now make for their own celebration. If anything went wrong, help was just an old-fashioned phone call away!
Reflecting on those days got me thinking: Might digital’s future in packaged-goods retail reside in putting people, and the personal touch, back into the shopping experience? If store employees were to help shoppers enjoy a more technologically integrated experience by educating and informing them on how to use, leverage and thread together online and offline experiences, would markets once again become the center of the “new community”?
There’s no denying that digital, mobile and social have had a seismic impact on the way we all shop. Some industries, such as electronics, luxury goods, travel/hospitality, apparel and automotive, have felt the direct impact of digital, while others — such as consumer packaged-goods— are somewhat behind the curve. In many ways, things haven’t changed since my grandfather’s heyday.
Indeed, somewhere between the car door and the store door, the modern grocery shopper turns into her mother. She walks in the store, puts away her cell or smartphone, grabs the same kind of cart her mother used, and, equipped with her paper list, walks down many of the same sorts of aisles, herding her 1.8 kids, picking up many of the same brands her mother chose.
We know she is online as she is planning her trip and before she enters the store, but to understand why packaged-goods pales in comparison to some other industries when it comes to her use of mobile devices, we need look no further than a few key factors.
First, grocery shopping is task-oriented; it’s all about getting in and out of the store as quickly as possible. Shoppers are there either for a stock-up, fill-in, quick trip or a special purpose.
Next, most grocery items are relatively low-cost and the perceived value of offers or discounts is lower, as well. What’s more, the potential benefits hardly merit juggling a smartphone. She’s already juggling a cart, kids, the list, deli, bakery, her meal-plan and more. Remember, while mom may be a talented multi-tasker, she is not that talented! Lastly, with mobile-phone reception at many stores either limited or not consistently available, there’s relatively little opportunity to work digital into this scenario.
Most packaged-goods consumers are “alpha-shoppers.” Whether we’re talking about a female or—increasingly — a male shopper, by the time they get to the store, they are smart (bolstered by pre-shopping digital research), directed (they know what they want or know what problem they need to solve) and don’t have time to waste.
Some retailers understand this and have activated natural dwell-points, like deli and bakery, with digital kiosks. In the next few years, when smartphone usage and RFID/NFC technology reach their tipping point, more dwell-points will be digitally activated and today’s “clunky” hand-held self-scanning technology will migrate to our smartphones and be our constant shopping companions. When this happens, digital/mobile will, in fact, redefine the way we shop, select and pay for groceries.
Until then, the critical inflection point for digital and packaged-goods retailing will come at the intersection of shopper needs, wants and desires. “Needs” come first because they are hard, cold facts — they are non-negotiable. Saving money and adhering to a budget would fall into the “needs” category.
“Wants” are softer, more subjective elements, like speed, convenience and a positive overall shopping experience. “Desires” are those things that we keep to ourselves, like our secret hope that we emerge from our shopping trip with something new, better and innovative: something that allows us, with our families in tow, to break through mealtime monotony to something memorable.
However, until now, packaged-goods brands and retailers have been a bit played-out-of-position by the idea of “digital.” They have tried to build real-world websites in their stores with QR codes, hand-held scanners and the like, but have had only limited success.
More important, in the process of “chasing digital,” retailers have not optimized the one thing digital will never have: personal contact and the ability for a one-on-one relationship to teach, coach and advise customers, to deliver a richer shopping and brand experience, and to build loyalty and advocacy in the process.
My grandparents had two sons, a brother and two sons-in-law serving in the armed forces. They used the front window of his store to promote their dedication and service, and invited the community to do the same by bringing in a picture of their serving family member, which they also featured in the window.
Each week, in growing numbers, families would come from miles around to “post” their pictures, share news from loved-ones and, of course, buy what they needed for dinner. When a soldier came home, the whole neighborhood went to Roxy’s Market to watch my grandfather take down the soldier’s picture and return it to his family. Now, imagine this with the amplification of the digital, mobile and social! This is the opportunity facing packaged-goods retailers today.
The bottom line for digital at packaged-goods retail is that the most valuable asset in any store is its staff. The digital win for packaged-goods retailers today lies in activating their people in a combination of personal selling and digital education.
By integrating digital and personal shopping services, retailers will deepen their relationships with, knowledge of, and value to, their shoppers. This will drive traffic, build baskets and garner loyalty. Retailers and brands can break the negative cycle of discounting tactics to create true value, sustainable demand and a bright, connected future.