The beauty aisle in Target.

Retailers can learn a lot from grocers. From seamless alignment between bricks-and-mortar and digital presences to efficient checkout processes and popular loyalty programs, grocers have optimized user experiences across platforms, feats that still install challenges for many brands and retailers.

Here, Alexis Clarfield-Henry, director of marketing at Unata — an end-to-end platform that leverages machine-learning to enhance shopper experiences in the grocer category — discusses key learnings for retailers and brands to borrow from the segment.

WWD: Though Unata is primarily centered on the grocery category, what best practices can other sectors borrow from Unata’s customers?

Alexis Clarfield-Henry: Grocery is one of the biggest categories of all retail sectors, and it forces supermarkets to offer a very clean, simple and seamless user experience so that their shoppers can easily and quickly find what they are looking for from a catalog of 10 thousand or more products. Without an incredibly simple user experience, customers will give up very quickly. Other sectors outside grocery aren’t forced to focus on seamless user experiences in the same way because their catalogs are smaller, but they should, as it’s what users expect, and they will similarly give up when they can’t find what they’re looking for after a few clicks.

There is also an expectation from consumers for their shopping experience to be seamless between online and offline. To achieve this seamless experience, retailers can connect their e-commerce offering with their loyalty program. That way, retailers can use their shoppers’ in-store purchase history to create a better online experience. For example, if a shopper just bought milk on a Sunday, the retailer doesn’t need to send them an offer for milk on Monday. Other retail sectors should borrow this best practice and ensure that items bought in store are used to create a more relevant experience online.

WWD: Why is the online-order, in-store pick-up relevant in today’s market? What is leading this change of order fulfillment?

A.C.H: Today’s consumer is time-starved and will flock to experiences that can save them a few minutes in their day. Services like UberX, Starbucks’ order ahead and Amazon’s one-day delivery have helped shape customer expectations to get what they want — transportation, coffee, services and more — fast. The online-order, in-store pick-up in grocery — also known as click-and collect or curbside pick-up — helps consumers receive similar benefits of quick and convenient shopping when they grocery shop. Since consumers tend to buy the same groceries each week there isn’t a real need to go into the store if they don’t have to. If people know they can order their Grande, non-fat, caramel, no foam latte and have it waiting for them when they get to the store, why shouldn’t they be able to do the same with their groceries?

WWD: It was recently announced that SpartanNash — a Michigan wholesaler and retailer — will begin implementing Unata’s end-to-end solutions. How will SpartanNash enhance its consumer journey through this new platform?

A.C.H.: SpartanNash has already been offering various click-and-collect solutions in stores, but the company expects the new solution will be more comprehensive. By integrating personalized promotions and other features, the offering will dovetail their Yes! loyalty program and ongoing efforts around personalization using data to segment customers based on individual preferences. Overall, SpartanNash believes the platform will take their customer experience to another level.

WWD: What are best practices that retailers should adopt from the grocer segment?

A.C.H.: The most important best practice for our retail clients is connecting all of their different digital offerings into one seamless user experience. For example, by connecting a retailer’s e-commerce, e-loyalty, digital coupons, e-circular and more, a shopper is able to take advantage of all the available deals as they shop, rather than having to hop from one web site to another to find those same deals. When we integrated digital coupons into the e-commerce and e-circular experiences for Lowes Foods, they saw digital coupon redemption increase by more than 400 percent in the first four weeks. Their customers could easily find coupons associated with the products they were already buying and have them automatically redeem at checkout.

WWD: How will artificial intelligence platforms continue to enhance the customer experience? Why do retailers need to integrate these now?

A.C.H.: The best thing about artificial intelligence is that it helps retailers automate tasks that are typically completed by a person. By adopting AI, retailers can offer online personalized experiences that are typical of the in-store experience (e.g. recommendations from a knowledgeable store associate) without needing an army of analysts and marketers or a giant budget. Time is of the essence: local retailers and grocers are competing with Amazon, a behemoth that makes basic AI look like child’s play. If they want to compete with online marketplaces, retailers must adopt machine-learning capabilities that help them offer the same level of personalization and service digitally.

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