With the projected total value of digital grocery sales in 2025 some 60% higher than pre-pandemic estimates, the grocery industry is facing one of the most transformative years in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, said Stor.ai, which believes the rise in online grocery shopping has come at the cost of customer loyalty to shoppers’ preferred brick-and-mortar stores.
Stor.ai, formerly Self Point, an end-to-end digital commerce solution for grocers, has raised $21 million in an extended Series A funding round to integrate new, next-gen features and accelerate company growth in North America. The company works with both small retailers and national chains to provide them with the tools to build and manage their own inventories and leverage advanced fulfillment methods to drive online business and meet growing consumer needs, said Stor.ai.
WGB connected with Stor.ai CEO Orlee Tal on the eve of its funding announcement to learn more about the marriage of the in-store and online grocery shopper experience, as well as what role the solutions-based company hopes to play in what could be the industry union of the decade.
Jennifer Strailey: In the last year, scores of consumers have moved to online grocery shopping due to the pandemic. What role do you expect technology will play now and in the near future in-store? Will technology increasingly become part of the in-store experience, and if so, how?
Orlee Tal: Technology already plays an increasing role in the physical shopping experience and will continue to do so. A survey from Acosta recently found that 89% of shoppers are actively using their mobile device to complete their in-store shopping experience. This has become the entry-point for technology in the store and is only the beginning. We believe that expanded use of mobile apps, scan-and-go technology, smart carts and computer vision is the not-so-distant future for the in-store experience. However, consumers will demand that the in-store and digital experience are tied seamlessly together and that is the bridge Stor.ai creates with its platform.
Stor.ai announced its latest $21 million funding will accelerate its go-to-market of new, next-gen in-store shopping technology. What kinds of in-store technology can we expect to see from stor.ai?
Stor.ai believes that the online and offline experiences are going to continue to blend together, and thus, the digital experiences currently offered will increasingly influence the physical shopping experience. To that end, stor.ai is investing in technologies and partnerships in the mobile and computer vision spaces, with a focus on ensuring an interconnected ecosystem of shopper touch points.
How do you see the relationship between a grocer’s success with technology and customer loyalty evolving?
As digital touch points increase in the shopper journey so does the opportunity to continue to drive increased customer loyalty. For example, shoppers today have the ability to browse, research and discover products on retailer’s online platform and ultimately submit their order for fulfillment. With stor.ai’s fulfillment app, we have the ability to extend the online experience and customer interaction into the store by offering up substitutions and offers to the customer while the order is being fulfilled.
Another example: Shoppers today have the ability to browse, research and discover products on a retailer’s online platform and ultimately generate a shopping list they bring to the store with them. This shopping interaction is furthered upon arrival at the store by either engaging the shopper via their mobile device or leveraging a smart cart that the shopper uses during their in-store journey. In both instances, the digital journey transitions to the physical journey seamlessly while driving loyalty with the shopper.
Among its capabilities, Stor.ai offers customizing maps in-store for picker grocery fulfillment. Since the pandemic, we’ve heard from front-line grocery workers and consumers alike that the in-store experience is sometimes impacted by the dynamic of pickers essentially competing with customers who are also trying to shop a store. Does your technology address this, and if so how?
The growth of online shopping has no doubt begun to create volume and traffic challenges for the in-store experience. Our fulfillment app can address this in a number of ways:
1. Because the fulfillment app is owned by the retailer, and many retailers operate an overnight shift; one option is to shift next-day volume to an overnight operation.
2. Our app can be used to support dark-stores, thus pushing volume to non-customer facing settings.
3. Our app can, and currently is, being deployed within microfulfillment centers as a means to remove volume from the in-store experience. Pickers can pick up to 12 orders with our application, hugely reducing the number of pickers a retail[er] needs to fulfill their orders.
Additionally, since the pickers are contracted by the retailer (either employees or third-party logistics), they will be trained on store etiquette and how to respect other shoppers in the store, unlike outsourced labor models. … We do not want to lose sight of the fact that while online shopping has grown significantly over the past 12 months, 80% or more of transactions will continue to be done in a physical setting. Therefore, it is critical to choose a solution that ensures neither experience is compromised.