June 4th, 2014 Posted by Retail brand building, retail brand relevance, shopper experience, Supermarket strategy, Uncategorized 0 comments on “SUPERMARKETS: DO YOU KNOW ME, LOVE ME?”
Image of young couple with cart in supermarket

Is your supermarket about cans and boxes or food experiences?

Relevance should guide retail brand value propositions…

By Bob Wheatley

Research shows that home cooks typically learn and establish expertise around 10 menus. And while these may evolve or modify over time, the number of them tends to remain the same. Thus the items purchased – while also varying here and there – will retain a measure of continuity.

This behavior suggests that digital tools could identify a pattern of behavior in purchase that becomes a form of fingerprint for shoppers — and thus the ability to match offers and unique benefits that fall in line with shopper basket preferences. With it comes an opportunity to increase loyalty because the store “knows my item needs and preferences.” What helps in this process is the “rinse and repeat” nature of human behavior around the menu variations we tend to learn/accommodate.

Thus there’s a key role for technology, especially mobile tools, to build from this condition in the shopping environment. That said when we talk about the old-world imagery of corner shopkeeper who knows the wants and needs of Mrs. Smith, while the knowing is important, its really the human interaction and relationship that helps cement the store-to-customer bond.

High touch is a very human thing. Do you really know me??

Scaled supermarket experiences have morphed into self-help trips where contact has been minimized. And supermarket companies work hard to control staffing costs by reducing them and in many cases working to eliminate them. Hmmm.

Yesterday I visited the opening of another Mariano’s store in Chicago’s Lincoln Park city neighborhood. It’s an 88,000 square-foot homage to food and retail experience. A form of culinary Disneyland — with an out-sized emphasis on stations that were akin to “rides” of indulgent-ness that made shopping a true adventure.

The corner store high touch philosophy.

The staff to customer ratio was unprecedented in my experience. At every turn in a store geared to place primary emphasis on fresh and prepared products and food-court offerings, were trained employees taking a Nordstrom like interest in helping people with their shopping choices. Accelerating this was the army of servers with trays passing samples of fresh and prepared items for shoppers to try. A feast of sensory experiences and tastes.

Then the multitude of sampling stations manned by key category vendors who were also inviting more taste experiences in all parts of the store from perimeter to grocery. I interacted with more Mariano staff in one visit than a lifetime of shopping other banners.

The recalibration of store footage to real foods, fresh and prepared, plus emphasis on restaurant-as-food-store alters the P&L and builds higher margin categories into the balance sheet. With it comes the ability to staff differently. And then drive to the mother of all opportunities: real relationships between people centered on our love affair with food.

It’s the food…

Many retailers believe they’re in the box, can and bag shelving/pricing business. Food is supposed to be a culinary adventure, and for those who understand it’s all about the food comes an enormous opportunity to refine the retail experience while returning in contemporary style to a shopkeeper/customer interaction that heralds the long-gone memory of corner store. And the corner store never had a Vegan grill bar.

So technology that works backwards from the very human interest and love of taste, flavor has the best shot at making a difference. Apple’s recent acquisition of Beats Music an example: the owners of Beats aren’t headphone engineers or software geniuses. They are music industry folk who understand how music motivates people, their emotions — and the love people have for song, verse and beat. In their world, it’s the music stupid. In grocery, it’s the food stupid. The tools we use are (should be) simply a means to help facilitate the end – the meal at home.

Safe to say when the tool becomes more important than the human bond, we’ve lost sight of what this is really all about.

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