How a store in Stockholm found the future of grocery shopping
We will always buy food at the grocery store, but what customers want from this experience is evolving. How can retailers adapt to customers’ changing expectations?
Just like everything else, the grocery story is undergoing significant change. Almost a decade ago Marc Andreessen, a well-known venture capitalist and co-founder of the 90s-era browser, Netscape, explained “Why Software Is Eating the World”.
He was mostly right. Today, we have Amazon Prime, Netflix, Spotify, and Uber Eats. People can order anything from their smartphones and the ease of buying from slick apps has changed what consumers expect from the good old grocery store. Heck, drones might even deliver our food in the not too distant future.
Yet the coronavirus pandemic showed that even with perfectly convenient online ordering, people still want to go grocery shopping. It’s fun and it should be, but how could a grocery store make it as easy as buying things from a smartphone?
Give me what I want and give it to me now
ICA Roslagstull, a supermarket on Stockholm’s high street, Birger Jarlsgatan, might have struck upon an answer that bridges the gap between smartphones and real-world shopping with digital experience outfit, Ombori.
The companies collaborated to roll out several interactive displays equipped with front-facing cameras and software that detects human movement using joint-detection algorithms.
The store’s foray into the future of grocery shopping aims to create a fun and memorable experience rather than merely barraging customers with price information and discounts.
“In this industry, we are too focused on price,” says Peter Dinehage, the proprietor of ICA Roslagstull.
Instead, Dinehage wanted to create a new grocery shopping experience that improved the customer’s journey from entry to checkout by delivering information when they need it on the right medium. Today, the obvious interface is the smartphone yet most retailers aren’t using it to enrich the customer’s knowledge about food and what they’re buying.
“Our vision is, ‘How can we create a unique store that stands out and is different?’,” says Dinehage.
“This makes it a little more fun to shop with us by using technology and it lets us stand out in the crowd,” he adds.
ICA Roslagstull installed an interactive display at the store’s entrance and displays at the seafood, meat and delicatessen stalls and sections with ready-made meals.
As customers decide whether to queue for a section, they can use the screen to check out new recipes and source ingredients from the store they’d need to make a meal. The experience demonstrates customers are interested in more than pricing information.
After browsing the screen, the shopper uses their smartphone to scan a QR code on the screen and take a spot in the digital queue for the department they want to visit. When the customer’s place is approaching, an alert arrives on their smartphone telling them to go to the counter.
The system is an easy win for customer satisfaction. After all, who likes waiting at the delicatessen for a number to appear on a screen? Most people would rather continue browsing a store than twiddling their thumbs in front of a ticket counting machine.
A platform for future innovation
However, ICA Roslagstull is looking at the display system and its camera sensors to address operational challenges, such as stocking shelves and ensuring aisles aren’t in disarray. The grocery store has, for example, applied the technology to its cafe section.
“Sometimes the cafe may be in need of a clean and the empty rack is full. It could be connected to the system. There are lots of things we can use this idea for. We could get more time to react,” he says.
“The customer should not notice anything,” he says, pointing to queues at the checkout, rubbish on the floor, or something empty on the shelf…
“As soon as the customer notices anything, you have failed.”
A lucky move ahead of the pandemic
Dinehage rolled out the Ombori system before the World Health Organization declared a global pandemic, but it turned out to be helpful to manage crowds.
Across Sweden, retailers need to manage customer attendance quotas and most stores observe the restrictions strictly, often by deploying staff to manually count customers entering and exiting the store.
ICA Roslagstull has a display at the store’s entrance that monitors store attendance automatically. The feature has helped make customers feel safe when grocery shopping.
“The calculator has been greatly appreciated by many. This store is under control,” says Dinehage.
“They feel that it is a safe environment to shop in. This store takes its responsibility. It feels safe to shop here. I think that is a huge effect. The customer feels safe. And we're in control. Many other stores have no control. It lulls [store operators] into a false sense of security.”
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