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Tech Innovation Takes Center Stage at 2018 NGA Show

CART’s Sterling Hawkins breaks down what retailers need to know
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The Center for Advancing Retail & Technology will showcase dynamic new capabilities transforming the retail food industry during an interactive pitch event on the opening day of the ongoing National Grocers Association’s 2018 Show in Las Vegas.

CART CEO Gary Hawkins and co-founder Sterling Hawkins will open the session with an insightful overview of disruptive innovation happening across the retail supply chain, followed by rapid-fire presentations from several companies providing emerging technologies of all types.

Winsight Grocery Business caught up with Sterling Hawkins at the NGA Show to discuss the rapid rate of innovation unfolding across the retail landscape, the changing dynamics of the supply chain power shift and other observations he urges retailers to embrace.

WGB: What strikes you as being most important as it relates to innovation and the grocery business?

Sterling Hawkins: The innovation conversation has become front and center in all of retail these day. Everyone has an innovation lab, wants to know what’s next, learn about the latest tech. I don’t think there’s a leading brand, retailer or investor in the space I haven’t heard from lately about it. And Amazon acquiring Whole Foods is just the cherry on top.

I’m a fifth-generation grocery retailer myself. My great-great-grandmother started a roadside stand in New York selling produce from the family farm back in 1934. It grew over the years into a really amazing business in the community. When we started out, retail was obviously vastly different. We often knew what customers wanted, extended them credit, dropped off groceries on the way home. But somewhere along the way, we lost track of the customer, as did the industry as a whole, as everything went mass. There are outliers, but overall, the global retail picture today is only incrementally better than when self-service retail was invented all those years ago.

Simply adding technology on incrementally to everything we’ve already done isn’t addressing the most fundamental of problems. Amazon and countless others are looking to change the game with the use of technology. It’s an incredible opportunity for independent grocery retailers, especially because we’re now in a position to return to the roots of really knowing our customers but doing it at scale with the use of technology.

WGB: What’s different about innovation today vs. the innovation we’ve been hearing about for years?

SH: The power shift. There’s a fundamental shift going on relative to the power in the supply chain. It used to be retailers driving decisions. We saw things like self-serve shopping in the early 1900s, scanning in the ’70s, self-checkout in the early ’90s, loyalty programs in the mid-1990s—all of these things were initiatives implemented by retailers. Today, it’s a different story: Consumers are holding the power in the supply chain and driving what kinds of technology retailers need to support.

It started with the launch of the iPhone and has grown from there. Consumers have started taking the position of, “I’m on mobile,” or what will soon become, “I’m in virtual reality”—and if you want to reach me, you need to be here, too. It’s opened the floodgates because retail isn’t just retail anymore. Companies like Amazon are coming from left field changing consumer demand by really catering to where the customer already is.

WGB: With the vast amount of change and innovation in play, how do retailers know what to focus on?

SH: Innovation has exploded for sure. All of a sudden, we’re reading about drones delivering products, we regularly talk to bots through chat programs, and we’re even starting to see purchasing happening in augmented reality. We’re looking at over 1,000 new companies in the space every year now. The key here is: Speak the language of the customer. Eight out of 10 Americans are shopping online. Half of Americans have used an augmented reality app and 16% of people have a smart speaker in their homes like Amazon Alexa.

Focus on technologies that consumers are going to find value in using. Those things that are perceptive to the current state of things, predictive of what’s going to be needed next and present for the consumer making shopping with you as easy as possible.

WGB: How does this come together at the CART Pitch Event during the NGA show on Sunday, Feb. 11, at 3:30 p.m.?

SH: We will set the stage by giving retailers access to creating real innovation in their businesses—not just incrementally better versions of the past. We then have several top-tier emerging technology companies presenting to showcase some of the CART validated solutions. From last-mile delivery to new “Amazon Go”-style checkout-less technology. These will all be presented in a way so retailers know how they apply to their businesses and how to engage. It’ll really set the stage for all the innovation we’ll be showcasing during the NGA show, and it’s a can’t-miss way to kick things off.

Pictured above: NGA President/CEO Peter Larkin with CART execs Sterling Hawkins and Gary Hawkins

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