How does retail technology help drive product purchase?

The pandemic has undoubtedly escalated consumers’ comfort levels with online shopping. However, yesterday’s International Fresh Produce Association Virtual Town Hall took a closer look at the ways in which retail technology could help drive consumption of fresh produce in particular.

Jonna Parker, director of IRI Fresh Foods, kicked off the session by discussing where consumers are today with online shopping. As she pointed out, 11.7 percent of all retail food and beverages are sold online, a figure that includes produce. It happened in foodservice in 2019, too, with Parker noting that six percent of all restaurant commerce was done online. Now, that figure stands at 14.6 percent. “That’s almost 15 percent of all restaurant traffic that comes from digital media alone,” she said. “Our future growth now comes from the Internet.”

As she points out, Amazon accounts for 11 percent of all omnichannel food, beverage, and grocery purchases. “That’s not to say that Amazon is killing products. However, if you’re used to going online for just about everything else in your life, why wouldn’t you start thinking about going online to buy products?” she asked her. “The reality is that digital and other players have reshaped the fresh food landscape.”

From left to right: Jonna Parker, Heather Paquette

Berries are a leader in online products
Of the produce purchased, berries lead fresh produce consumption, closely followed by apples and fresh salad packets. “What’s remarkable is that when it comes to product sales online, more than a quarter of all products sold in the digital e-commerce space come from those three categories,” he said.

Parker also highlighted the importance of digital shopping and the next generation of shoppers. Shoppers under the age of 40 spend 1.2 times more on fresh food online than their generational counterparts. “When a person under 40 buys products online, they spend 22 percent more on products online than in the store. Not only are they more digital natives, but they are also more willing to engage and update online.” she said. “This generation is digital native. It’s a fluid environment for younger consumers, and the more we can make the online and in-store environment seamless, the better.”

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That includes the way food is marketed and sold. With Millennials and Gen Z, almost one in five of them have found a product they love and buy regularly because of social media. (Compare that to half or less than 10 percent of Baby Boomers or Generation X.) “So what you do online is going to change the way they shop, and it’s more than just changing a display or putting up a sign,” Parker said. “We’ve seen this in fresh foods that have gone viral and have a direct impact on in-store sales. Watermelon and mustard, for example, were a thing on social media this summer and drove a lot of watermelon sales this year.” among the youngest.

Improving the customer experience
The conversation then turned to the panel, and Heather Paquette, Vice President of the Retail Innovation Center of Excellence for Retail Business Services, began by discussing how retailers are changing to deliver more value to customers and enable them to choose the experience they want. whether it’s click-and-deliver, shop online and pick up more items at pickup and more.

From left to right: Dorn Wenninger, David Steck

“We’re really focusing on what we’ve heard loud and clear from customers, and that is that they absolutely value having interactions with associates, and they want our associates to be there to help them solve problems or help them with their shopping experience.” as needed,” Paquette said. That means focusing associates’ time on customer-facing activities and using retail technology to handle redundant, non-customer-facing activities. This can include technology like restroom cleaning machines, automation of delivery, product slicing and even self-checkout.

This is even more important considering the tightness of the current job market. “Right now, our associates are very valuable to us. I can’t imagine there are many retailers that feel like they have an abundance of labor,” Paquette said.

technology and labor
For David Steck, vice president of IT infrastructure and application development for Schnuck Markets, Inc., the retail technology that is of interest are developments such as electronic shelf labels. “Heather is right that labor is valuable now. With labor shrinking, no matter how hard you try to hang all those labels off the shelves every week, you’re going to miss some, and that affects the entire shopping experience.” buy,” he said. she said she.

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It’s also technology that empowers associates to help customers. “We had produce associates tell us to help a customer. They were using their personal cell phone to watch a video on how to cut pitahaya,” Steck said. “How do we provide the tools for our partners to help?”

Other retail technologies being considered include Amazon-style technology, in which consumers’ grocery carts are equipped with camera technology and scales, enabling contactless payment, or even in-store shoppers equipped with camera to help select products.

“Less Sexy” Technology
Reiterating Paquette’s notion of improving customer-facing experiences, Dorn Wenninger, senior vice president of produce for United Natural Foods, Inc., noted that sometimes the technology being considered is less “sexy.” “So some of the technology is used to reduce labor throughout the supply chain,” Wenninger said. “I was in Peru last week where they used automated pallet machines to build pallets. It’s a simple technology that’s been around forever, and I think it’s going to be more prolific. It’s working creatively to remove noise from the floor and allow associates to give it consumers what they want, which is a fresh product”.

At the same time, technology has also spawned some battles between online and in-store trends. Wenninger noted that in-store purchases often include variable-weight items and e-commerce sales with fixed-weight items. “These are contradictory trends. One trend is to have less packaging and the other is to sell in packaging. How do we thread the two trends together?” he asked her.

Parker concluded the session by also stressing the importance of the personal experience in the store. “Most people who are Millennials and Gen. Z. don’t know how to pick a ripe melon. They trust their store associate more and aren’t necessarily the generation where their mom or grandma taught them how to pick the fruit.” ripens in the store,” she says.

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