Q&A with Greg Ferrara, president and CEO of the National Grocers Association
What has the pandemic taught us about the importance of technology?
The pandemic taught grocers that e-commerce is not a novelty or luxury – it is a required component of your operation and something that consumers will expect in increasing numbers. Luckily, independent grocers had been making significant investments in technology prior to the pandemic and found themselves well equipped to meet the increased demand following in initial spike in March 2020. To stay relevant, retailers must continue to stay on top of technological advancements that will boost their efficiency and level of service to ensure shopper loyalty well into the future.
What was the growth in e-commerce during the pandemic and will this trend continue?
Grocery e-commerce acceptance surged to a level that, prior to the pandemic, was not expected to be reached for about five years. While that growth has stabilized, e-commerce has successfully established itself as a go-to for an increasing number of consumers. Most shoppers are not expected to buy groceries exclusively online (though there are many who undoubtedly will), but have integrated e-commerce into their shopping repertoire that they’ll choose depending on their specific need, driven by time, convenience and availability. In an industry survey the National Grocers Association conducted this summer, statistics confirmed the need for both the e-commerce investment and resulting growth, with a 54% increase in online grocery sales in 2020.
We have added e-commerce, what is the next phase of technology we should investigate?
Also highlighted in our survey, independent grocers continue to expand their e-commerce capabilities to accept Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits for online purchases, enhancing their ability to help the food insecure. Looking to the future, grocers are also increasingly exploring the addition of robotics, primarily back of house but also for sales-floor tasks such as automated stock checking and cleaning routines, freeing up more associates to assist shoppers.
How can technology help ease retail issues like labor shortages and supply chain?
As noted, technology like robotics can free up associates for more customer-facing tasks. With a shortage of labor, this has become even more important to deliver an exceptional customer experience. If customers feel like they’re being ignored and their needs aren’t being met, they’ll take their business elsewhere. From a supply chain standpoint, technology can help retailers better gauge inventory and anticipate needs long before out-of-stocks escalate.
How can technology help make the customer’s shopping experience truly frictionless?
Branded shopping apps not only give retailers better control over their offers, they can allow shoppers to plan trips in advance, find groceries more quickly and ring themselves up to save valuable time. E-commerce needs to be a real-time extension of the in-person store experience. Beacon technology can help shoppers locate specific items and deliver customized deals directly to their mobile devices.
What areas of technology does the retail grocer need to be looking into to remain competitive now and in the future?
Grocery retailers need look no further than the expo floor and educational offerings at The NGA Show for the latest tech solutions designed specifically for independent operators. E-commerce solutions that deliver a seamless shopping experience, robotics that help keep products moving to the shelves and other applications designed to drive out costs all will be essential to the future success of independent community grocers.
Make your plans now to join leading retailers and wholesalers at The NGA Show, Feb. 27-March 1, at the all-new Caesars Forum Convention Center in Las Vegas. For details, visit us online at www.thengashow.com.
Learn more about Ferrara on our Experts page, here.