Food Forum: Omni-channel consumerism in fresh foods

By Juan Perez

Employing advanced technologies can help improve fresh foods sales.

Omni-channel is the latest terminology used to describe how consumers are increasingly adusaengaging the supermarket through different channels, and essentially on their own terms.
While online grocery shopping has been around for some time, the increased consumer interest in the rapidly evolving fresh foods departments of the store make this area of the supermarket a rich environment for omni-channel innovation. Let’s take a closer look at the omni-channel in fresh foods and try to gain a better understanding of its key components.

The original, and still most widely used, channel in the fresh foods departments is face-to-face service at the counter. Supermarket chains have built their customer service identity on friendly, courteous service that many consumers value deeply. New technologies that support this channel include electronic number dispensing systems and queue management systems. These technologies enable fresh food associates to provide efficient, consistent service to all counter customers.

In-store self-ordering kiosks and order-taking tablets are the technologies that comprise the second most popular channel. While the majority of consumers still prefer counter service where they can see the products and they have more control over how the product is prepared for them, for a growing number, convenience, speed of service and not having to spend any time waiting in line trumps everything else. Busier lifestyles make this the fastest growing channel with supermarket fresh foods consumers.

Last in terms of current levels of consumer usage, but often the most talked about these days, is the web/mobile channel. Not many would argue that someday, perhaps in the not too distant future, the majority of consumers will use a website or smartphone on a regular basis to order food from the supermarket’s fresh foods departments. The reality today is that a small percentage of consumers actually do.

Here are some basic rules that supermarkets can follow when formulating their omni-channel strategy:

•Proven technology exists today that will enable retailers to give their customers access to all of these channels, so why not try some out? Install self-ordering kiosks or launch a self-ordering smartphone app. The technology provider you choose should let you start small but have a clear roadmap for larger scale growth and integration.

•The self-ordering software on in-store kiosks, order-taking tablets, over the web and on smartphones should allow consumers to order not just a limited selection of products but all (meats, cheeses, prepared foods, made-to-order sandwiches, party trays, meals-to-go, holiday meals, etc.) of the products. Nothing will stymie the growth of this channel as much as limiting what consumers can order.

•Of utmost importance are the “infrastructure” systems that take in the orders from all the channels, that route and process the orders and that ultimately enable the fresh product to be delivered to the consumer in the timeliest manner. These systems cannot be overlooked. In fact, when evaluating technology providers, it is a good idea to start by looking at capabilities in this area.

Hopefully this provides retailers a better understanding of the omni-channel for fresh foods. As more consumers migrate to this engagement model, this information can be used to help formulate an effective strategy for your organization.

Juan Perez is president and CEO for ADUSA. He can be reached at jperez@adusainc.com.

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