Category Archives: customer experience

Order lunch from the supermarket?

A recent SupermarketNews article announced Instacart is helping supermarkets better compete with restaurants with the rollout of Ready Meals, a new prepared meal ordering and delivery service for grocery stores.

According to the article, chains such as Publix Super Markets, Kroger and Ahold Delhaize USA’s Giant, Food Lion, Hannaford, Stop & Shop and Martin’s are offering customers the service via the Instacart app’s Ready Meals Hub, a new in-app destination for prepared foods.

Deliveries are made to homes or offices in as soon as 30 minutes, Instacart said.

Another good example of supermarkets finding innovative ways to provide a better customer experience!

Necessity & invention

As the saying goes, “Necessity is the mother of invention.”

A good example involves the impact COVID has had on product sampling, a long-standing practice in supermarkets that came to a screeching halt due to concerns about safety.

“While some retailers and shoppers may be dipping back into onsite product sampling, the ongoing uncertainty about COVID-19 and the continual emergence of variants have put a proverbial crimp in plans to fully bring it back,” said Senior Editor Lynn Petrak in a recent Progressive Grocer article.

The good news is that digital product sampling platform Sampler has stepped in to bridge the gap through a newly-formed partnership with grocery wholesale distributor UNFI to send product samples right to consumers’ homes.

Users can create an account on the Sampler platform and identify preferred products, and then UNFI handles the delivery.

“UNFI sells over 275,000 unique products from thousands of national, regional and local suppliers,” explained company President Chris Testa. “Working with Sampler, we can help deliver a solution for brands wanting to generate greater trial and consumer awareness for their products.”

Another good example of improving the customer experience through innovation and resiliency!

Big Y, schnucks leveraging innovation for improving customer experience

Innovative improvements in retail operations, pricing, merchandising, and customer service have been the norm over the past eighteen months, and the trend is continuing at a rapid pace.

Progressive Grocer recently reported on two prime examples.

Big Y Foods, one of New England’s largest independently owned supermarket chains, is enhancing its fleet logistics with new trailers equipped with state of the art refrigeration units and an electronic platform for remote monitoring and control.

The eSolutions platform provides continuous visibility of Big Y’s cold-chain assets via a centralized data stream that monitors trailer temperatures, location and movement, and also enables remote control of refrigeration units. The platform also:

  • Provides notifications as trailers come and go from geofenced areas assigned to Big Y’s distribution center and key locations within its retail network.
  • Finds unused or underused trailer assets, including those dropped by Big Y’s third-party logistics provider at vendor partners, where they may be idle for a few days until loaded.
  • Monitors trailer precooling time to minimize fuel waste.
  • Optimizes refrigeration unit performance for fuel efficiency and product protection.
  • Helps avoid emergency call-out situations in which a refrigeration unit must be re-primed because it ran out of fuel. Fuel level monitoring sensors send dispatchers low-fuel alerts via eSolutions, and units can be programmed to automatically shut down before they run out of fuel.
  • Shortens refrigeration unit uptime through the use of continuous analytic and diagnostic information

On a different front, St. Louis based Schnuck Markets Inc. has announced that it will be the first grocer to use a Check In feature provided by GetUpside.

Shoppers can use the free GetUpside mobile app to take advantage of personalized cashback promotions of up to 20%. The new Check In feature will make it easier for customers to earn cash back as, instead of snapping and submitting a picture of a receipt, they can just click “Check in” and GetUpside will verify each transaction.

These innovations are just two examples of how many of today’s supermarket chains are leveraging innovation and technology to improve processes and to provide a better customer experience.

Customer Experience Programming Provided by Progressive Grocer

Making customer retention a first priority and finding ways to let customers know they are cared for were among the key focus areas to be addressed in a Customer Experience program offered by Progressive Grocer.

“As those who keep you in business explore a rapidly expanding landscape of options beyond your stores, customers need to know you care about keeping their business over time… [you must] become the most trusted partner to meet each customer’s needs, keep them safe, and ensure they know you’re listening and learning from their experiences,” they said in a statement.

The piece went on to pose some thought-provoking questions regarding customer trust and loyalty, and about finding opportunities to gain their feedback to ensure needs are being met.

“Customers have more options than ever to obtain what they need and want,” PG said.

“Retailers who don’t specialize in grocery or have never offered grocery items are expanding across the market to capture larger segments of your customers’ budgets. The intensely competitive nature of grocery requires constant communication with customers and attention to these imperatives: an omni-channel approach to customer feedback, prioritizing safety and building customer trust, and knowing exactly what your customers want.”

Leveraging Technology at Whole Foods

A recent SupermarketNews article reported that Whole Foods Market will be implementing the checkout-free Just Walk Out payment technology that Amazon introduced in its Amazon Go convenience stores in two new stores slated to open next year in Washington, D.C. and Sherman Oaks, Calif.

As the name implies, Just Walk Out allows customers to avoid the checkout line by using overhead computer-vision cameras, weight sensors and deep-learning technology to detect merchandise that shoppers take from or return to shelves and track items selected in a virtual cart. Customers will be prompted when entering the store to select Just Walk Out shopping or use the traditional checkout or self-checkout lanes.

Another example of how supermarkets are leveraging technology to continually improve the in-store shopping experience!

Leveraging Technology to Improve Processes at Walmart

A recent SupermarketNews article said that Walmart plans to roll out warehouse automation that will improve speed and efficiency at regional distribution centers.

The plan involves activating robotics technology in 25 of Walmart’s 42 distribution centers, which will include a fleet of fully autonomous robots and proprietary software to improve throughput while boosting warehouse capacity,

“This move will fundamentally alter how products get to stores,” said Joe Metzger, executive vice president of supply chain operations at Walmart U.S.

“Right now, product arrives at one of our regional distribution centers and is either cross-docked or warehoused until we need it. The products are moved or stored manually… This system uses a complex algorithm to store cases like puzzle pieces using high-speed mobile bots, operating with a precision that speeds the intake process and increases the accuracy of freight being stored for future orders. By using dense modular storage, it also expands building capacity. And by using high-speed palletizing robotics to organize and optimize freight, it creates custom store- and aisle-ready pallets, which take the guesswork out of unloading trucks.”

Another good example of improving processes to drive the customer experience while keeping costs down!

What Supermarkets Can Learn from C-Stores

Several of our posts have focused on the importance of innovation and the customer experience, and how retailers must make continuous improvement in these areas a priority. Along those lines, a recent SupermarketNews article shared some interesting insights on the significant success the country’s 153,000+ convenience stores (c-stores) have experienced due to making ongoing improvements via “digital transformation.”

The piece quoted Scott Langdoc, a strategist specializing in the grocery chain, drug, and convenience/fuel retailing segments at Amazon Web Services, who said, “By focusing digital transformation efforts on supporting emerging customer journeys, optimizing product and service offerings, and prioritizing efficiency of retail operations, c-store retailers are working with Amazon Web Services (AWS) to double down on innovation while recovering revenue and attracting new customers.”

The article went on to explain the different product fulfillment expectations at c-stores, which include fuel fill-up, basic snack and beverage purchases, buying prepared foods like pizza or sandwiches, a quick errand for a household necessity or a combination of those scenarios.

Langdoc also noted that, more frequently, customers expect a personalized experience regardless of how or where they engage in the c-store.

Examples given included:

  • While a customer pumps fuel, they order a slice of pizza at the dispenser via a voice-activated order system and use their mobile phone to pay for both the pizza and their fuel.
  • A shopper buys a fountain drink in a store and gets a personalized discount to buy fuel as an incentive because the customer hasn’t purchased fuel at that station in the last month.
  • A customer grabs the items they want to buy at an Amazon Go store and walks out without having to stand in line to pay at a traditional cash register.

The Bottom Line
While recognizing that fuel remains the top selling c-store product category, the article concluded by suggesting, “in-store product sales and an extensive prepared food menu represent the largest overall sales growth categories, and on average, they are the biggest contributor to overall gross profit.”

Therefore, retailers should focus on capturing the broadest spectrum of transaction details possible and applying the analytics and machine learning to generate hyper-accurate predictions of future demand.

“This transaction detail can help optimize category plans, profitable private label assortments, high-selling menu offerings, and better in-store stock availability,” the article said.

Read the full article…

Canada’s Virtual Food Festival: Another Example of Innovation

In an enormous effort to keep stakeholders at all levels informed and engaged, and another good example of innovative solutions during the pandemic, Canada is running a virtual “Flavors Food Festival.”

The four day event, scheduled for March 22-25, will feature direct connections with Canadian food, beverage, and ingredient companies. Attendees will include supermarket, specialty retail, c-store, food service, food distribution, food manufacturing, and alcohol importers, distributors, and retailers looking to find new products from innovative brands.

Educational breakout sessions will also be offered.

Surprisingly, there is no cost to join in the fun!

More information…

Supermarkets Dealing with Accelerated Training Demand

A recent progressivegrocer article referred to 2020 as “a year of feverish activity for training and development” in supermarkets due to new job functions and tasks brought on by a public-health crisis.

However, the piece went on to suggest that an even greater need for employee training will emerge this year, because “the pandemic accelerated technology’s impact on innovation and created all manner of new and elevated shopper expectations that front-line employees must satisfy.”

The article referenced a study by The Center for the Future Work, which included data on the extent to which algorithms and artificial intelligence (AI) are permeating businesses of all types (73%).

“What we once thought of as the future of work has now become the ‘now of work,’” the article said, and suggested more training around analytical skills will be needed going forward.

However, despite the wide-spread use of AI in supermarkets, the human touch still drives the customer experience. “Humans will continue to add value and be valuable by upskilling — having skills and capabilities that cannot be supplied by even the smartest of machines,” the report noted.

Walmart’s Innovative Delivery Plan

“Helicopter, nylon, radar, jet engine, canned beer, sunscreen—all these inventions are the legacy of the Great Depression of the 1930s,” wrote Alex Petrunenko, Product Evangelist at Creato. “We might not know all the innovations of the coming years brought by the COVID-19 crisis, but we know for sure there will be more companies leveraging low-code technology across different industries.”

A good example of innovative improvements such as those listed above was reported in a recent SupermarketNews article, which announced that Walmart plans to pilot an Internet-of-Things (IoT) “smart box” from startup HomeValet for home delivery of perishable foods.

According to the article, the “smart box” test will begin this spring in Bentonville, Ark. Participating customers will be able to receive deliveries from their local Walmart store in a temperature-controlled box located outside their home. Three temperature zones inside the box will allow for storage of frozen, refrigerated and pantry items.

The “smart box” can interact with the courier’s mobile device to provide access and complete “hands-free” fulfillment of the order.

“This gives customers the ability to receive secure, contactless deliveries with peace of mind, knowing their grocery items will stay fresh,” explained Tom Ward, Senior VP of Customer Product at Walmart U.S.