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Guest Post: What Will Customer Experience Post COVID-19 Look Like in Grocery Retail?

This week we feature an article from Corina Mihalache, Business Development Executive at Tokinomo. She writes about changes in the customer experience for grocery shoppers during the COVID-19 pandemic. As cliché as it may sound, for an understanding of the future, we must always look into the past. Especially since the first half of this […]

This week we feature an article from Corina Mihalache, Business Development Executive at Tokinomo. She writes about changes in the customer experience for grocery shoppers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

As cliché as it may sound, for an understanding of the future, we must always look into the past. Especially since the first half of this year has been crucial in determining the shift in consumer behavior, needs and expectations.

So let’s rewind for a second to see what happened during the last 6 months. Sit down, I’m going to replay bits of this movie for you:

The new coronavirus hits, most countries go into lockdown. Due to “stay at home” directives people start stockpiling on household essentials, average grocery shopping spendings increase by 50%. By this time, one of the retailers’ biggest problems is, ironically, empty shelves and high demand for sanitizing items. Consumers are panicked and they need reassurance of safety measures being taken by retailers.

Fast forward a bit, consumers realize this is not a battle, it’s a war, one that’s going to last longer than expected. So, trying to stay healthy during the Covid-19 Pandemic, consumers start doing their grocery shopping online, most of them saying that they would continue to do so even after the pandemic is gone. Online grocery shopping sees a mindblowing evolution, one that retailers could have never foreseen.

And that brings us to the present, where the Pandemic has become part of our lives. With restrictions being slowly lifted, people find their way back to the stores. Online shopping is easily declining (USA saw an 18% decrease in June versus May) proving once again that Brick and Mortar stores could hardly ever be defeated by a digital revolution, even in times of a serious health crisis.

What do consumers want now? And how can grocery retailers craft a customer experience that fits the new normal? Or, let’s ask the bigger question: how can you prepare for a future that you don’t really know how it looks?

The answer to that is pretty simple. With everything that’s going on, what we fail to understand is that most of the consumers expectations were almost the same even before the crisis. The request for increased safety measures, extra hygiene and social distancing were the only ones added. Consumers wanted most of the things they want now even before COVID-19. This Pandemic only put a bigger pressure on retailers to move faster and stop postponing the adoption of technology for “when we’ll have budgets and time to explore innovation”.

Back to listening to your customer’s needs, here are some of the things retailers should have in mind when they think about the future of customer experience post Covid-19.

Less Friction, Faster Checkouts

If we think in terms of rivalry between online and offline shopping, the checkout process was the ace up online’s sleeve. Amazon has turned the frictionless retail utopia into reality with its ”Just Walk Out” shopping experience in Amazon Go stores. However, the solution is way too expensive to be scaled, so retailers are looking at a combination of technologies, such as computer vision, digital imagery of barcodes or RFID scanning. Covid-19 added the need of eliminating cues in supermarkets in order to comply with social distancing measures. What used to be a nice-to-have asset that created a simplified customer experience, now it’s becoming a must-have technology and a top priority for retailers.

Safety First, Sampling Later

Complying with social distancing measures in grocery stores means monitoring the store occupancy at all times, ensuring fast checkout processes and giving customers the reassuring feeling that they won’t risk their health by coming in to buy a loaf of freshly baked bread. Lately, that meant canceling sampling campaigns and promotions that involved humans. Consumers are wary, they would like to avoid any kind of unnecessary interaction and they are not to blame. That does not mean cutting all kinds of in-store promotional campaigns, because that would have a damaging impact on the overall customer experience.

Instead, there are new technologies out there that can promote products in an interactive way and create a sort of engagement with the consumers that would make them feel intrigued, happy and safe. I’m talking for instance about this Iot device that makes products pop out of the shelves, talk, dance or even sing to the absolute delight of shoppers. A great alternative for canceled promotions and not only. An interactive robotic display solution that most probably mirrors the future of in-store promotions in grocery retail.

An Omnichannel Perspective

Consider this: a recent Harvard Business Review survey of 46,000 shoppers found that only 7% shopped exclusively online, 20% were store-only shoppers, while 73% moved across multiple channels. Now more than ever, with online grocery shopping finally taking off, retailers need to turn their multi-channel strategy into an omnichannel one. What does that mean exactly? By using multi-channel, retailers manage each of them separately: offline, online, loyalty programs, etc. Meanwhile, omnichannel gives retailers a centralized data management system, as all existing channels are synchronized.

What does that mean for the customers? Getting a seamless shopping experience, of course. Let me give you an example of how an omnichannel approach translates to customer experience: the retailer has an online shop and a physical one, so the customer comes inside the store with a wishlist made on the retailer’s app. The phone battery dies and the list is gone. The store cannot help because the online and offline systems are not connected. Customer is not satisfied, the retailer loses the sale. Consider solving this problem in the future: wouldn’t that be amazing?

Greater Personalization

The main trend of the future for grocery retailers is that stores need to become more customer-centric than product-centric. Some of them are already taking steps in that direction, creating spaces where customers can watch a cooking demonstration, join a wine or beer tasting, sip on a coffee while relaxing a bit or, quite the opposite, climb walls or do other more engaging activities.

The future is experiential, that’s for sure. Retailtainment is not just a fancy word, it’s the reality we are going to live in. People are getting busier and busier and time is the most expensive thing we possess. Making it worthwhile and memorable will become the top priority of brands and retailers around the world. If they want to remain competitive and drive sales and loyalty, they must learn to pay more attention to their consumer needs and encompass more customer-oriented activities in their strategy. Customer experience is the battlefield where grocery fortunes are being won or lost. The stakes are too high for players not to give their best.

Corina Mihalache is an in-store marketing and retail technology enthusiast. Corina is also a Business Development Executive at Tokinomo, the most disruptive shelf advertising solution for grocery retail.

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