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How grocery retailers can grow after the world reopens

Jun 29. 2020
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By Tony Ng
Special to The Nation

As the Covid-19 outbreak spread, customers quickly adapted to social distancing measures by adopting new online methods to buy everyday groceries. Though lockdown measures in Thailand have eased and restaurants and businesses are starting to reopen, online grocery shopping behaviours are here to stay.

Now the habit has formed, consumers will continue to rely on digital-first shopping, though they will still expect the special in-store service they received when shopping in person. Here are five lessons retailers can apply to their businesses going forward.

Lesson 1: Personalised shopping experiences

The goods people buy during a pandemic may not reflect their typical buying habits. Post-pandemic, normal purchasing habits will likely resume. Grocery shopping will go from a long-term play – in which consumers buy groceries to last weeks or months – back to a routine task for in-the-moment purchases.

As purchasing habits shift back, grocers will need to deliver personalised experiences to move more shoppers past transactions and build increased loyalty.

There are three ways grocery retailers can do this.

Artificial intelligence (AI): AI learns from customer data to suggest relevant items based on past and recurring purchases. Connect AI to your customer relationship management (CRM) system to build tailored customer journeys across marketing, commerce, and service.

Customer surveys: Surveys and quizzes let customers tell you exactly what they want – and when they need it. Create email surveys and a section on your site for feedback. Include questions on lifestyle and dietary restrictions to deliver new product options.

Chatbots: Chatbot usage has increased since Covid-19. Besides helping service teams scale, bots can provide curated information for customers. Use bots to set up order subscriptions and recommend products. Bonus: Bots make service agents more efficient because they free them up to focus on higher-value cases.

Lesson 2: Increase pickup options

Consumers will still want flexibility after shelter-in-place orders lift. Continue special considerations and services, including special pickup times and delivery options.

Take curbside pickup a step further. Reserve a certain number of spaces in your parking lot for pickup. Enable customers with an app to schedule their pickups and match them with a time and zone. Let them add their phone numbers to receive text updates. Text ahead of time with a pickup reminder and special instructions. You can also add staff to assist with curbside pickup zones by maximising self-checkout lanes inside the store. Lastly, be sure to embed service so customers can connect with an associate and ask any questions.

Third-party delivery partners will continue to play an integral role. Find ways to evolve the partnership to continue to offer at-home delivery options. For example, make it easier for customers to receive items through subscription-based delivery from the store. Or explore automated vehicles for in-town deliveries.

Lesson 3: Partner with restaurants for wider reach

Restaurants were hit hard during Covid-19 and were quick to collaborate to create new revenue streams. Offer support to the industry by using your business as a platform for change. Create strategic partnerships with restaurants to make a positive impact.

To do this, consider offering ready-made or heat-and-serve restaurant meals. Then cross-promote to both restaurant and grocery customers for maximum reach. If there's a bundled meal for Taco Tuesday, customers could click one button and add the ingredients to their cart. This expedites the service and creates a seamless experience.

Another approach is to co-create digital content such as recipes, how-to’s, and blogs to increase consumer engagement between purchases. For example, a restaurant that features recipe content on its website can link to online grocery ordering.

Lesson 4: Empower associates to reduce contact risks

During the pandemic, store associates, warehouse workers, and delivery drivers became frontline heroes. Consumers trust and respect companies that recognise and fairly compensate these employees. According to a recent survey, after discounts, safety of employees was the top influencer for shopper purchases and loyalty.

When countries reopen, frontline employees will be tasked with even more safety measures. Empower associates to handle customer questions while reducing contact and risk. For smaller grocers, this may mean scheduling appointments for at-risk in-store shoppers. For larger grocers, formalising training on proper safety and social distancing protocol is key for one-to-one interactions.

Many grocers are implementing ways to reduce employee contact with customers such as encouraging shoppers to pay by card and use self-checkout. Safety screens and increased sanitizing can also protect workers.

Lesson 5: Change how you track inventory

Long delivery times and order substitutions marred the Covid-19 shopping experience. Post-crisis, consumers will have less patience for delays and inconsistencies.

To get ahead of expectations, track inventory the day of the order, not the day of delivery. Remove ordered items from the inventory system and keep them in the back of the store or in a dedicated section of your warehouse. If a customer tried to order an item but it was out-of-stock, notify them if it becomes available before their delivery time, so they can add it.

Evaluate order management capabilities as well. Ingest orders from online and route them to the correct store locations.

Prepare for new shopping habits, future disruptions:

While the future is uncertain, digital commerce will be increasingly important for both large grocers and small shops. Small grocers may actually have an agility advantage without disparate, legacy systems.

Grocery retailers will begin to focus on transformational projects to prepare for future disruptions. Such projects don't have to take months or even years. For example, the Salesforce Commerce Cloud Quick Start for Grocery and Food Service is a tailored, out-of-the-box solution that has everything you need to offer buy online, pickup and curbside experiences.

Tony Ng is Asean region vice president for Salesforce

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