The past 10 years have seen enormous change throughout the grocery industry, but perhaps none as impactful as 2017. There were many game-changers—unexpected acquisitions, shifting consumer behavior, various new channels for buying groceries and more. Yet as the saying goes, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” Research from analysts at The Hartman Group found that brick-and-mortar grocery remains the most used channel, with 86% of consumers having shopped in-store in the last 30 days. While there have never been more options for grocery consumers, it’s clear that in-store is a significant priority for store owners.
Grocery stores and customer experience
It’s no mystery that customer experience is table stakes across industries today; it takes 12 positive experiences to make up for one unresolved negative experience. That said, it’s critical that brick-and-mortar assets serve as a stage for customized consumer experiences that go far beyond ambience to surprise and educate the consumer. Just as this is true for traditional retail, it is at least as important for grocery.
“Providing food for the household is an expression of love, care and nurturance for self and others,” said Laurie Demeritt, CEO of the Hartman Group, based in Bellevue, Wash. “It is because of this that, for many consumers, shopping for groceries is something much more than a chore—it is an act of love.”
So how does the grocery industry keep up and meet consumer demand? The path is not entirely different from the rest of retail.
The concept of “brand uptime” refers to anything affecting the physical infrastructure of a store, which consequently impacts overall company performance. Despite the fact that perception is subjective, how a customer perceives your brand’s physical presence affects overall brand experience, irrespective of channel. Maintaining brand uptime is key for exceptional customer experience and is achieved by applying strategic facilities management to maximize brand uptime. More and more, grocery retailers are realizing that physical assets serve as a stage for customized experiences that go beyond ambience to a platform for engaging with consumers, essential for further interaction. Aside from the obvious in-store benefit of fulfilling immediate shopping needs without paying delivery fees, a well-maintained grocery store offers a powerful sensory experience—the smell of freshly baked bread and the colorful and vibrant textures that are inherent to the produce section, for starters. People also still value the human interaction and the thrill of unplanned discovery that physical stores provide.
But the most delicious smells and sights mean nothing if a store is not aesthetically pleasing; in a grocery store, cleanliness really is next to godliness. An unplowed parking lot can seriously alter—or stop—a shopper’s experience, and inconveniences such as flickering lights and broken produce scales both lend to negative impressions.
Ensuring customer satisfaction
With such a high percentage of people shopping in-store for groceries, experience is the real priority. Combined with sustained brand uptime, the stores that consistently tend to the experiences their customers demand—curated selection, excellent service and innovative store design—will stay in the game. Here’s why: Thoughtful in-store experiences inspire consumer loyalty, an important sentiment that’s very difficult to achieve via any other channel, but is necessary for success. Experiences attract people to the location, drive purchases, loyalty and word-of-mouth advertising—arguably the most powerful model for influencing consumers. Physical locations must be constantly maintained to project a consistent and positive brand image. The bottom line is that how you “touch” the customer proves as critical to your brand and its value as the innovative experience that initially attracts the customer to the store.
Maintaining store facilities for optimal brand uptime may sound obvious but can prove a logistical nightmare if not prioritized at a high level. While a clean store and functioning HVAC are overt must-haves, ensuring uptime is complex and might include thousands of potentially unique, distributed locations—each of which require complete visibility across geography, employees, assets and contractors to ensure proper execution. This isn’t possible without the requisite processes and technology to respond to what could become a logistical tragedy.
Modernizing and automating facilities management to maximize brand uptime within grocery cannot be overlooked. Arming yourself with technology to preemptively solve problems, streamline processes if something goes wrong, and manage the minutiae that contributes to a smooth facilities program can feasibly ensure brand uptime. Delivering a consistent in-store experience that caters to the local market it serves proves a critical advantage that extends far beyond one physical interaction to impact all future experiences between consumers and your brand.