Beacons, mobile payment, and ecommerce are only a few of technologies retailers are seeing more and more of as the grocery industry continues to acclimate to changing consumer preferences. While big retailers continue to push the envelope with better data and better targeting, independent retailers are getting caught up in the hype that comes with any new technology. Whether it is at national trade shows or in email inboxes the onslaught of companies touting their solutions to each and every perceived consumer need that arises can be confusing. The arguments are convincing, yet rarely does the addition of one program diminish the need for another. The question really becomes then how to determine which programs and services are really needed to not only meet consumer demands, but also retailer bottom line expectations. To evaluate this, retailers must not get lost in the hype.
A recent Coffee With CART session discussed hype cycles and how retailers should understand them when it comes to technology. Hype cycles according to Gartner start with a technology trigger. Whether this trigger is inspired by an actual consumer or a company trying to sell a new product, if there isn’t a problem to be solved, the technology won’t take hold. For grocery consumers, the problem could be an overwhelming amount of variety, the need to save money or the need to shop quickly and efficiently. With these needs in mind, companies have developed mobile apps and platforms to address those needs.
For the retailer, understanding who their customers are and what they need to make their lives easier is necessary. This can be accomplished through consumers surveys, social media comments or the tried-and-true talking with customers. Getting lost in chasing technology advancements without actually meeting what consumers are demanding is not only unhelpful, but also potentially expensive. This is where retailers get stuck between wanting to be first and wanting to see what’s working for everyone else. Yet this is also where a hard look must be taken on how these technologies integrate into the rest of the programs offered by the retailer and whether there are resources available to optimally utilize a potential new program. Virtually no programs work well when they stand alone and don’t fit into marketing objectives.
The balance of this consumer demand with hidden consumer need is assessed in the next three steps of Gartner’s hype cycle: Peak of Inflated Expectations, Trough of Disillusionment and Slope of Enlightenment. During the Slope of Enlightenment, retailers can start to become comfortable with products and services as they have been through the necessary learning curves. Whether retailers should wait for technology to become mainstream before adopting it is debatable, but keeping a pulse of the technology through these stages is essential because once the Slope of Enlightenment stage is reached, there is no more standing on the sidelines. Technologies reaching this stage begin to become expected by consumers and any retailers not prepared to adopt and implement quickly, most notably those who haven’t been paying attention and preparing for the potential integration, will be left behind.
Technology developments aren’t easy to judge. Some look like sure bets, while others look like lemons. Whether an early-adopter or implementing later in the acceptance cycle, if other retailers make it to the last stage of the hype cycle, Plateau of Productivity, the retailer must be either aware of that technology or have something newer and better behind it. Interestingly though, the newer and better doesn’t have to be shiny or complicated, all it has to do is solve a consumer need.