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4 Trends Disrupting Brick-and-Mortar Grocery

Customer experience and concerns about sustainability are driving change
Photograph: Shutterstock

The rapid changes affecting the grocery industry aren’t just happening in the digital realm. Disruption is also afoot in brick-and-mortar as stores look to keep up with shifting consumer habits and preferences. From scaling up on original experiences to scaling back on packaging, what steps should grocery retailers be taking now to capitalize on the next wave of opportunity?

We look at four trends affecting the category in the coming year, and the modifications groceries can make to adapt, compete and appeal to the more discriminating shopper.

Localization Goes Extra Mile 

Consumers can purchase anything they need with a few artful taps of the thumb, but more are looking to balance the convenience of online shopping with a desire to connect with their local community through food. As we look toward 2020, it won’t be enough to simply sell and market food items that were grown a state or two away. That’s because shoppers are beginning to make more of their purchase decisions based on “food miles,” which is the environmental impact of the distance that food must travel to get to their kitchen. This is becoming a bigger issue as more people are incorporating plant-based foods into their diet and shifting their attention from the carbon footprint of production to that of transportation.  

There’s an opportunity for grocers that are already sourcing locally to begin promoting this as a differentiator. It can be as simple as installing in-store signs highlighting that certain items have traveled only a nominal number of food miles.   

Shopping Evolves From Chore to Experience 

In an appealing two-birds-with-one-stone scenario, many grocery stores have made the decision to offer in-store bars, sit-down restaurants and high-end cafes. This small, yet powerful, change aims to convert the idea of going to the grocery store from the chore list to the Friday night activity list. In the next year, we’ll see even more grocers reshape the in-store store experiences with experiential components. Publix stores in Florida are already ahead of this trend, offering daily cooking classes that span cuisines and age groups. Others are introducing “paint and sip” gatherings, live music, book signings and other special events.

The importance of investing in events and revamping existing spaces to be conducive to shoppers spending time in the store is essential to positioning your business as a part of the local community.

Grocers Pilfer Trader Joe’s Customer Service 

Consumer Reports recently ranked Trader Joe’s as the No. 1 grocery store. Besides Trader Joe’s constant product innovation, cheap options and frozen-food selection, it possesses one integral differentiating quality: customer service. Through every in-store touchpoint, there’s a joyful employee in a Hawaiian shirt ready to answer questions, offer a sample or ask customers about their day.

There’s an undeniable correlation between this friendly demeanor and the fact that Trader Joe’s is consistently ranked one of the best places to work. Other grocery retailers have seen how Trader Joe’s sterling service has bolstered its reputation and its bottom line, and they are looking to follow suit. One place to start is by instituting a mystery-shopper program, through which consumers evaluate customer service measures and report back. From there, you can tailor an employee training that addresses these pain points, while also instituting a program that rewards workers who show notable improvements and go beyond the status quo.

Big Strides Toward Package-Free Shopping 

With packaging taking up about one-third of the space in the country’s landfills, it’s a win-win for grocers to reduce their packaging volume and give eco-conscious customers more to feel good about. Some retailers are already making strides in this area by increasing their bulk sections, going completely waste-free and offering better ways to recycle plastics. In addition to increasing bulk options, consider incentivizing consumers to bring their own shopping and produce bags and containers for the deli area by offering them a discount or small free item. These efforts can be promoted through advertising, in-store signage and social media.   

Given that the grocery industry’s profit margins are typically low, it’s essential for retailers to keep innovating to excite shoppers, recognize their changing values and keep them coming through the automatic doors. Even if you don’t have a Whole Foods-sized marketing budget, you can still take action now to give shoppers what they’ll be looking for next year and beyond.

Vanessa Kahn is an account supervisor for Room 214, a digital and social marketing firm.

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