Putting the Consumer at the Center

May 23, 2022

By Dave Wendland, VP, Strategic Relations, Hamacher Resource Group

Having recently had the opportunity to address a group of independent grocers during the National Grocers Association (NGA) show, I was quickly reminded of an old adage that goes something like, “Just when you think you have the key to success, somebody changes the lock.”

This is precisely what I repeatedly heard during this well-attended conference. Not only had grocers persevered during one of the most unprecedented times in retail, but they had also experienced a promising lift across their operation. That said, most were wary about what will occur next as they adapt and accept the emerging new normal.

Among the questions they consistently asked were the following:

–            Will shoppers remain loyal to their stores as the pandemic subsides?

–            Will the supply chain settle down enough to keep the key items shoppers want in stock?

–            How will workforce challenges be addressed, and can they afford reskill training?

–            What impact will private store brands have as inflation continues to soar or brand innovation stalls?

–            How can they identify the common traits of the new hybrid shoppers and how can they deliver value across the omnichannel?

–            Should they invest in the latest and greatest technology (e.g., cashier-less checkout, robotic inventory management, drone or autonomous delivery, AI-enabled applications, etc.)?

Two questions that I challenged them to address were:

  • Who is your future customer?
  • What changes do you need to make to your core operation to meet their needs?

Speaking of the future customer may seem like a fleeting thought, but a recent conversation with Jonathan Koch, dean of business at Waukesha County Technology College (WCTC), brought to light an interesting and relevant viewpoint. He said that the delivery of higher learning and the overall educational system had changed dramatically over the past two years.

Specifically, Jon shared that they had shifted to a hybrid system; with the workforce burdened due to retirements and resignations, course offerings had been modified to meet the demands of a new market, and the approach of communication with students had quickly shifted to more high-tech methods.

He went on to suggest that they were in the process of revamping their approach to education not by looking in the rear-view mirror and expecting things to return to their prior state, but rather looking to the next generation of students and retooling their entire go-to-market strategy and curriculum accordingly.

Who are these future students? Jon was quick to share that they were not talking to their current student population; they are focusing on 13-year-olds.

One of my favorite quotes is by Oliver Wendell Holmes, who is credited with saying, “A mind that is stretched by new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.” Every retailer in the country – regardless of their class of trade – needs to stretch their imagination. Think about the future consumer (perhaps the 13-year-olds) and put them at the center of every decision you’re making, from assortment planning to deployment of technology, and staffing to overall operations.

For those retailers and brands that can harness personal shopper information, ensure its protection and then activate it to create a relevant relationship with consumers: The future of shopper marketing is evolving quickly. The key is putting the consumer at the center.

Dave Wendland is vice president of strategic relations for Waukesha, Wis.-based Hamacher Resource Group Inc. (HRG), which improves results across the retail supply chain by addressing dynamic needs such as data and analysis, brand development, fixture coordination and management, shopper experience, and retail communications.