If there’s one thing on the mind of retailers after the NGA show, it is technology. With a record crowd in attendance, there was a very high level of excitement in the independent sector according to Gary Hawkins, and much of that excitement came from innovation. The first Coffee with CART held after the NGA show wrapped up the event that was and took a look at what programs and offerings retailers will be taking vested interest in throughout the year.
One of the first notes from the NGA show was the enthusiasm that international companies are showing in the independent grocers in the U.S. market. One company out of Argentina is helping retailers and brand manufacturers track what is happening at the shelf in store. With monitors in the ceiling, this program tracks consumer movement, showing retailers which aisles are and are not trafficked by a consumer, and notes when an item is picked up off the shelf, then either replaced on the shelf or put in the basket. Insights like this will help lead to merchandising effectiveness says Hawkins.
Consumer convenience and ease of shopping has to be on the minds of retailers as well though. Hawkins mentioned a technology called Powatag to help in this arena. First tested in Tesco, this technology led to a 30-second lunchtime challenge. A consumer was able to go into a store, grab a sandwich, salad, side and drink and pay on their way out the door. Apple Pay, bluetooth, beacons and wifi will continue to bring convenience to the forefront, using technology to make the in-store environment akin to the online one.
Which brought the Coffee with CART team to the online shopping discussion. While it has been the topic of multiple Coffee with CART sessions, it continues to be one of the most visible forays into new technology. One note Hawkins voiced for retailers to consider though, is when assessing 3rd parties in the online space, the retailer must consider what happens when the 3rd-party relationship with the consumer supersedes the retailer’s relationship with the consumer. Retailers must be cognizant of their relationships with consumers and foster them just as they foster new technology.
Hawkins noted that retailers aren’t alone in their search for innovative, yet impactful, technology as he believes wholesalers and brands have a role in helping the retailer as well. Wholesalers, as they help cut through the clutter and find scalable solutions. Brands, as they use solutions in conjunction with retailers. As evidenced by the traffic at the NGA show, the interest is in new technology is there, and in Hawkins’ opinion it is because technology is now a commodity. Instead of just having it, it’s about what the retailer does with that technology. How does the retailer creating value with it? Yet while the necessity is there, the affordability of the solutions is also a main component of retailer interest, swinging the innovation pendulum back to the independent retailer.
As this pendulum swings, CART is attempting to help independent retailers compete with their larger counterparts by reaching out to a group in the Silicon Valley called Plug and Play. Plug and Play is an incubator that nurtures a variety of startup companies in many sectors, one of which is retail. The startups receive funding and mentorship, helping them develop products for vibrant retail environments. While larger retailers are already involved, CART is determining how independents play a part in this innovation pipeline. With their ability to be flexible and nimble, Hawkins believes this could be a real advantage to independents.
As the Coffee with CART session came to a close, the team noted the continued emphasis on mobile, the new potential of augmented reality and the consistent trend of consumer nutrition. When asked where this wide variety of innovation and technology should be fostered within an organization, Hawkins pointed out that while all areas of an organization have a responsibility for innovation to a point, the focus has shifted in recent years from I.T. to Marketing. Despite who is involved though, there will continue to be more and more focus on how in-store can come to life and how retailers and brands come to live inside the merger of online and in-store mindset.