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The future is here: A look at how technology has transformed the grocery shopping experience

The future is here: A look at how technology has transformed the grocery shopping experience Manuel Rosso
The coming storm of change to the grocery industry isn’t going to happen; it’s already here. Something exciting is happening, and many don’t yet recognize it. For the first time since the introduction of barcode scanners to the grocery store over 40 years ago, radical new technologies that have the ability to massively impact the way consumers interact with their store have arrived. The grocery industry no longer needs to wait for more advanced technology or consumer adaptation to make a move, as the smartphone that 58 percent of Americans have with them at all times has the ability to deliver a wealth of information to the shopper at the right time and the right place. The world has changed for the consumer, and we’re seeing what were once considered tedious, time-consuming responsibilities made simple and seemingly effortless.

Let’s take a look at how the grocery shopping experience has significantly changed for Mary, a mom of three, starting with the planning stages of her shop.


Then: At one point in time, browsing the sales circular for all of her favorite stores meant digging through piles of paper and taking note of any interesting deals and specials. Once that daunting task was complete, it was time to figure out what to do with the stack of potential savings. Should she find recipes based off of these sales items, choose recipes first and hope some of the ingredients overlapped with the sales, or just wing it, going to the store with no particular plan? As a result of this timely and downright frustrating practice, most of the circulars that she received ended up in the recycle bin.

Now: While consumers like Mary once had to be highly motivated to find deals, the deals now find her. Deals can automatically be matched to her grocery list, or she can browse the recipes that use the most on-sale items. Smart phones have also given her the ability to browse digital circulars from all of her stores straight from her smartphone. Adding sale items of interest to her grocery list or searching for recipes that include those sales is made possible with the quick tap of a button. This simplified, integrated mobile process has given sales circulars new life, finally delivering on its intended value. And with this new mobile medium comes new opportunity – opportunity for brand advertisers to get their messages out in the context of helping the shopper accomplish her goals, versus just alongside what she's doing. This also gives brands and retailers access to a mobile audience that is difficult to reach with other forms of digital advertising. And it doesn’t stop with circulars; brands can highlight promotions, discounts and other product messages directly to the consumer.

Safeway has done just that with its mobile loyalty program, Just for U, which tailors digital coupons to shoppers based on individual purchase history and buying patterns. As they continue to see success in their digital program, they move closer to discontinuing print ads completely. Besides Food on the Table, companies like Grocery Server, MyWebGrocer, ZipList and Pushpins are also using aggregated circular data to help consumers, retailers and brands take advantage of this digital change.

The grocery list

Then: When Mary used to make her grocery list, she used a number of formats – the back of a receipt, a piece of scrap paper, a notepad on the kitchen counter or a list spread across all three. She would try and add to that list throughout the week, but would regularly think of needed items when that list wasn’t around. More often than not, she would end up at the store with a list that was either: a) unorganized and missing several items that were eventually forgotten – until she found herself back at home and in need of said forgotten item, or b) at the store with no list at all, racking her brain for all the things she needed. Once at the store, she would make her way up and down the aisles only to realize she missed something at the front of the store – having to loop back to the beginning at least once during her trip. All of this to say, keeping up with a grocery list was less of a time saver and more of a hassle.

Now: Mary’s grocery list travels with her. If she’s sitting at work and suddenly remembers that she’s on snack duty for the soccer game this weekend, updating her list takes only seconds. With the ability to sync her list across multiple devices, she can start building that list on her tablet, and pick up where she left off on her smartphone. It also makes it possible for her to share her list with her family members, so that when they make a store run, they can check a few things off, too. When she’s browsing recipes on her phone and sees one she likes, she lets technology do the work for her by populating her list with the recipe ingredients. And when she makes an unexpected run to the store, she never finds herself without it. Once at the store, the ability to re-order her list based on the layout of that particular store makes her trip faster and more organized.

Now that we’ve seen what the planning stages of Mary’s shopping experience look like, let’s move to her actual shop.

The store run

Then: A quick grocery trip can quickly turn into a stressful chain of events. Because most grocery runs take place during peak hours, experiencing a relaxing stroll through the store to pick up a few necessities is highly unlikely. Between the crowded parking lot, busy aisles, out-of-stock products and long lines at the cash register, more often than not, Mary leaves the store with more stress and annoyances than actual food.

Now: On the days Mary is too busy to make it to the store, the store can come to her. Today's grocery delivery services aren't the Webvan of the dot com days past. Companies like Walmart, Amazon and Google are combining technology and logistics to provide grocery delivery services to their consumers in big ways. New companies are also being created for the sole purpose of digitizing the grocery shopping experience. Retail Relay Inc., one of the many e-commerce grocery startups that have emerged in the past year, matches local farmers, artisanal bakers and major grocers with the community to provide one-stop pick ups and deliveries to consumers’ doorsteps. Grocery delivery is not only greener and more convenient to consumers; it creates a more efficient marketplace.

Technology has made its way to the grocery store, and its arrival is responsible for bringing convenience to the masses. These technologies make it possible to engage the consumer when they first show intent. When Mary is in the planning process and at the store, retailers and brands can reach her at the most relevant point. Booz & Co recently reported that 52 percent of U.S. consumers use technology in their grocery shopping experience, and 31 percent use their mobile phones while at the store. Why assault the consumer with thousands of shopper marketing pieces, most of which are irrelevant, when it is possible to deliver the exact piece of information they need in their hands at the most relevant step in their path to purchase? Simply put, technology is impacting the grocery industry in substantial ways, and the brands and retailers that move to adapt will benefit with higher sales and increased loyalty.

  Manuel Rosso is the founder and CEO of Food on the Table. Food on the Table is a mobile app that helps 1.5 million families with personalized meal planning and grocery shopping -- from the circular, to the kitchen, to the store. Manuel...

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