Accelerated Digital Transformation and Omnichannel Strategies for Food Retail

by | Nov 3, 2021 | food retail

A shopper using a smartphone while at an in-store food retailer, proving that omnichannel strategies for food retailers are effective

Omnichannel strategies for food retail are a hot topic within the industry. As companies face innovation and change within the digital landscape, finding new ways to connect with customers is challenging. 

The “shopper’s journey” is a primary focus for retailers. The journey includes the entire shopping experience—from searching to purchasing, to consuming to after-sale experiences. With consumers becoming more comfortable using technology, they now expect a fully integrated, omnichannel experience. 

The future of food retailing involves a more unified experience for consumers across all digital platforms. To do this, retailers must merge e-commerce, incentives, rewards, and various media formats to earn and retain customer loyalty. 

Accelerated digital transformation and omnichannel strategies in food retail are changing the entire shopping experience.

Key Takeaways

  • Customers expect a consistent brand experience across all retail platforms.
  • Food retailers must focus on developing long-term customer relationships.
  • A hyper-personalized marketing approach is critical to attract and retain loyal customers. 

What is Omnichannel Retailing?

Omnichannel retailing refers to creating a consistent, seamless brand experience across all customer channels. The word “omni” means “universal.” In this new omnichannel environment, designing a streamlined online and in-store shopping experience is essential. 

Emerging digital technologies have blurred the lines between online and physical retail. Shoppers today have the option of shopping in-person or using a personal computer, tablet, or mobile phone to order online and arrange for curbside pickup or delivery. 

Some retailers have become channel-agnostic as they adapt to an increasing number of “omni” shoppers who shop in-store and online. Retailers anticipate that 1 in 10 shoppers will become permanent hybrid shoppers.

An omnichannel approach gives customers more options to engage with brands and retailers, allowing retailers to target the right shopper at the right time with the right message, creating a more personalized experience. 

Pre-COVID Food Retailing

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, food retailers relied heavily on in-store marketing campaigns to drive sales, but these fragmented communication tactics produced inconsistent results. In many cases, it led to “choice deferral,” where customers shelved purchasing decisions.

Regardless of readiness, the pandemic accelerated the use of digital technologies across all channels—marketing, advertising, promotions, and general communication with customers. This allowed retailers to interact with consumers in new ways.

For example, during the lockdown phase of the pandemic, many shoppers discovered that cooking at home was cheaper, easier, and healthier. Acosta’s COVID-19: Reinventing How America Eats study found that 35% of U.S. shoppers found a new passion for cooking during the pandemic. This value shift prompted retailers to reexamine how they market product suggestions to create a more personalized experience. 

Food retailers must focus on developing long-term customer relationships rather than transactional relationships, and digital innovation can help achieve this goal.

Digital Trends in Food Retailing

These are just a few of the digital trends that are expected to play a role in the future of food retailing: 

1. Walk-Out Transactions

Soon, shoppers will be presented with more touchless payment experiences allowing them to skip the checkout line altogether and pay via an app on their phone. With the help of artificial intelligence and digital technology, walk-out transactions are becoming a reality. An excellent example of this is the emergence of Amazon Go stores, which allow customers to purchase products without being checked out by a cashier or even using a self-checkout.  

2. Curbside Pickup

COVID-19 may have accelerated the growth of curbside pickup, but the trend appears to be continuing. Consumers enjoy the convenience and time-saving benefits of the experience, and experts believe shoppers will expect this service in the future. 

3. Store Experiences

Customers value experiences, but they don’t want to pay more for them. This has challenged retailers to reevaluate store layouts and architecture to create novel customer experiences without increasing costs. Experiences may involve using endcaps to feature special price promotions for shoppers who value price or curating interactive experiences for shoppers who value premium products. Novel promotional activities create new opportunities for retailers to engage with shoppers on a more intimate level.

Recipe kiosk as an example of omnichannel strategies for food retailers

Image Source: https://www.greenpursepr.com/blog/will-grocers-like-whole-foods-market-reinvent-the-meal-kit

4. Trust & Safety

As the COVID-19 pandemic lingers, retailers must continue to demonstrate a commitment to safety. Building and maintaining consumer trust is essential to creating long-lasting customer relationships. Retailers need to reassure customers that digital security measures are in place when using apps and websites.

5. Earn and Retain Customer Loyalty

Customers who download and adopt an app to purchase products or services become loyal to that brand. To earn and retain digital loyalty, retailers must create a seamless digital experience that serves the needs of real shoppers, not avatars.

6. Digital Design

In an omnichannel environment, all digital platforms must align. This means the customer interface and responsive design on an app should match the design of a brand’s website. Retailers should invest in technologies that simplify the customer’s experience, making it easier for shoppers to access relevant promotions.

7. Same-Day Delivery

With more customers choosing delivery services, retailers must become more operationally efficient. Some customers now expect same-day deliveries, and to remain competitive, retailers will need to implement robust inventory management systems to meet customer demands. 

8. Integration

Stronger integration with partners, suppliers, vendors, and distributors can improve customer experiences. Retailers will have to take a more proactive approach to compete in the marketplace. By taking the lead to coordinate promotions, retailers can create a more relevant shopping experience for their customers. 

9. Coupons

Market research experts expect app-based coupons to replace paper coupons in the near future. Push notifications and digital coupons have become more convenient options for consumers increasingly reliant on mobile digital devices. Digitally managed loyalty programs may also help retailers build stronger relationships with customers.

10. Personalization 

Technology has enabled intelligent personalization. As retailers get to know customers more personally, marketing campaigns will become more targeted and meaningful. Knowing which tools customers prefer to use helps retailers choose the digital technologies that best match their target market. In this hyper-personalized landscape, technology can help retailers retain loyal customers and increase lifetime value.

Data intelligence platform as one of the many omnichannel strategies for food retailers

Image Source: https://www.inmar.com/solutions/retail-cloud

The Future of Omnichannel Strategies for Food Retailers

Omnichannel shopping ecosystems will play a much larger role in the future for food retailers. 

As retailers face accelerated change, they must be digitally agile to compete in the marketplace. Some industry leaders have predicted that “omni-commerce” may replace “omnichannel” as online shopping evolves. 

From this omni perspective, the common end goal is to create a more cohesive in-store and online experience for shoppers who now expect an enhanced digital journey. Food retailers focus on the most promising digital solutions while simultaneously building consumer trust and loyalty by tuning into emerging consumer trends. 

Adopting an omnichannel approach is just one of many recent industry shifts. While many food & beverage expos specialize in just a few categories, SIAL features all product categories under one roof, making it the most comprehensive food & beverage event in the United States. To keep up with the latest trends, join us for the upcoming SIAL America 2022 educational conference.

To learn more about industry best practices and current food & beverage trends, join other food industry leaders as an attendee or exhibitor at the upcoming SIAL America 2022.