From the Publisher: Technology in the aisles

New products and software are making a big difference at retail chains. Can merchants learn how to harness the power of new technologies?

By Seth Mendelson

We are well into the new century and it is becoming increasing clear that today’s consumer is going shopping in a totally different way than she did just a decade or so ago.

What I mean by that is more and more consumers are no longer showing up at the store with a shopping list. Now they are coming with their smartphones, including Blackberrys and iPhones, as well as iPads and a host of other high-tech products that have applications designed to make the shopping experience faster, less complicated, less expensive and even more rewarding.

Everybody is talking about it. In June, officials at Accenture, the Chicago-based consulting firm, took me on an in-house tour of new software that can help consumers find specific items or products with the best prices, among many other applications. An executive at a Northeast supermarket chain asked one of our editors if he could visit and talk about the new technology and what company officials could do to stay on top of trends. “Frankly,” the executive said to me, “we do not know the first thing about these applications and how they apply to us.” That is not a good thing.

The New York Times wrote a story in August that talked about the ShopKick, a new application that will give consumers points just for entering any retail chain that signs up as a partner. Consumers will be able to use their accumulated points for gift cards at the participating retailers.

The beauty of ShopKick, according to the Times, is that it will allow retailers to know where the consumer is and even what departments they visit and how much time they spend there. If utilized correctly, it will help retailers determine department size and placement and what needs to be done to get shoppers into these sections.

These are just some examples of how high-tech is impacting decisions at the supermarket and, more importantly, in the aisles. It shows that as consumers get more information on their smartphones, they are going to make more informed decisions.

So what does it mean for grocery retailers? The answer is that they must stay on top of these new devices and new software and determine how they can benefit them and manipulate the consumer’s shopping behavior through them. A few years ago, only the most tech-savvy shopper was using apps and smartphones.

Today, my wife and her most of her friends—certainly no experts on technology—are eagerly using some of these apps as they shop.

And, it is only going to grow in popularity. Many consumers see hightech shopping apps as fun, cool and helpful. Retailers need to educate themselves on how these things work.

That means working with the developers of the software and independent consultants to determine what needs to be done to show shoppers that you are in on the action.

The second decade of the 21st century promises to bring many, many advances. Retailers can take advantage of most of these if they understand them and see how they can help create more sales. c

Seth Mendelson can be reached at 646-274-3507, or at smendelson@groceryheadquarters.com.

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