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Dipping into digital: Grocers can integrate digital communication with the brick-and-mortar shopping experience to increase revenue and customer satisfaction.

Grocery stores remain one of THE MORE TRADITIONAL RETAILERS and have yet to fully explore the possibilities of the digital, omni-channel customer service tools. Perhaps this slow adoption of digital communication strategy into the daily grocery experience results from the old school idea that it is an either/or paradigm--eliminating brick-and-mortar locations or focusing on digital. Are there other options in this synergistic compromise? Yes, there are, and the rewards for the early adopting grocers could be huge.

Grocery store touch points for a customer shopping within the aisles are typically Stockers, cashiers or possibly floor managers. But imagine each customer on every aisle empowered through your mobile application to get instant answers through the digital communication channel of their choice right from their smartphone.

Consider the scenario where the customer is standing in front of the wine section and needs a pairing idea, standing in the pasta section for the third visit and gluten-free bow ties are still out-of-stock or standing by the deli needing to know which brand of turkey is nitrate-free. How can the grocer get shoppers this valuable information quickly and accurately? Via text, chat or even a phone call right there in the aisle.

Grocery stores may be the best-positioned retailer to execute a seamless digital customer interaction and nobody knows it yet. The smart grocer will engage an expert to explore the possibilities and begin to test these theories. Digital menus and order-ahead is taking over the restaurant space and similar digital usage should be accelerating in the grocery store.

Another digital age concern for grocery stores has been the competitive threat posed by Amazon and other online vendors. Grocery stores have the most brick-and-mortar locations and continue to grow in their square footage. The majority of grocery shoppers still prefer buying in person, although online buying is trending. So why not deploy digital tools to allow online buying from the shopper's smartphone? It might be a way to cure an out-of-stock issue, a means to expand shelf space digitally and offer greater choice to shoppers.

Stores themselves could be viewed as inventory warehouses and distribution points. Website-only companies need distribution centers for inventory or partnerships with other merchants to try and compete with the scale of the grocery store's massive physical presence. Who wants to manage that many drop shippers for consistency and customer experience? By working with hundreds of drop shippers retailers can move to the business of compliance and quality in addition to their core function.

Amazon has same day shipping in Seattle. Why? Because they have local capabilities. Who else has same day shipping opportunities with local capabilities? Grocers.

Delivery methods might be an obstacle, but that can be solved. Grocery stores have the neighborhood presence and inventory to be primed for same day opportunities at a large scale edging out competitors that ship and deliver similar products. Several years ago the U.S. Postal Service partnered with private shippers because they had more distribution points. The process was a customer nightmare for tracking packages but the idea still has value. Amazon cannot build fast enough to equal the number of grocery stores. Grocery stores have thousands of locations to support massive website orders with faster delivery options supported by readily available inventory.

Grocers are in a great position to integrate digital communication with the brick-and-mortar customer experience to increase revenue and customer satisfaction. Grocery stores' large customer base and vast physical presence is prime for digital enabled sales acceleration. Using digital communication channels such as text, chat and video calls, improved website capabilities, and mobile apps focusing on shopping will drive revenue generation and customer loyalty, while offering the consumer a choice of how to communicate real time with the stores; propelling the grocer forward in growth.

Tracey Scheffler is president of Consumer Services. She can be reached at
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Title Annotation:FOOD FORUM
Author:Scheffler, Tracey
Publication:Grocery Headquarters
Date:Jan 1, 2016
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