Insights and Innovation

February 27, 2018

By: Peter Larkin, NGA President and CEO

The NGA Show wrapped up earlier this month, but I still find myself thinking about how new technology innovations are changing consumer behavior, and ultimately the retail landscape.

The impact of consumer-facing technology was a huge topic among Show attendees.  One of the Show’s most popular workshop tracks, “Tech Trends,” presented fascinating updates on the latest tech ideas that are driving rapid change throughout the grocery industry.  Several breakout sessions showcased innovative solutions, challenges facing all retailers, consumer-first marketing, the digital landscape, and e-commerce best practices. This year, the Show’s Collaboration and Innovation Lounge also featured “Tech Talks” on how artificial intelligence, robots, wine kiosks, and augmented reality can help independent grocers differentiate their companies.

The clear takeaway: while the overwhelming majority of consumers still shop in supermarkets the traditional way, new generations of shoppers eventually may not even set foot in a store. And those who do will have at their fingertips all kinds of instant information on everything from nutrition facts to cooking tips – all of it offered by the latest in-store applications and Internet of Things (IoT) technology, which are networks of physical objects or “things” embedded with electronics, software, sensors and connectivity.

Innovation has been underway for some time, obviously. Consumers can order groceries online – or through their TV – for later pickup or home delivery.  Browse the Apple App Store and you’ll find dozens of cutting-edge applications do just about everything food-wise but cook your burgers for you. However, as presenters at The NGA Show emphasized, it is the accelerating pace of innovation that is remarkable.

For example, stores are increasingly employing technology to improve ease of shopping. Simply choosing an item off a store shelf can trigger a mobile coupon for that item – or a competing one.  Shopping carts will become virtual mobile billboards with real-time promotions triggered throughout the store. Checkout will become faster through the use of mobile apps.  Meanwhile, in-store GPS mapping will track foot traffic, which store managers will use to maximize precious per-square foot sales. Overlaying all of these innovations is a burgeoning industry that is already analyzing copious amounts of grocery sales data, which, when pared with consumer preference metrics, will yield valuable intelligence to spot trends and create new products.

All these changes are adding a new addition to the C-suite: the Chief Consumer. From home delivery and curbside pickup to click and collect and more, innovation is changing the way consumers interact with retailers, and they’re putting themselves in charge. As a result, it’s more important than ever for retailers to incorporate consumer-first principles to meet these growing expectations.

The sum impact of this tech explosion is that shopping in the future will be information-rich and as convenient as consumers would wish, whether they’re actually in the store or sitting at home with tablet or mobile at the ready. These innovations now coming to market are driven by a basic economic principle: demand expands when customers (and retailers) see attractive benefits in their use.

One thing’s for sure: technology is revolutionizing shopping. That means more options and more convenience for shoppers.