CHICAGO -- Top supermarket-industry executives got a glimpse into a demystified technological future during the Food Marketing Institute convention here this month.
But the SuperTechMart demonstration on the show floor also offered a surprise: all the futuristic marvels demonstrated are available today. In another departure from typical high-tech showcases, the exhibit integrated the various applications, ranging from in-home ordering and list creation, to in-store kiosks printing the lists and specialty item pick-up, to back-office programs that ensure all products are in stock and the customers are satisfied.
The ambitious program got rave reviews from all retailers approached by SN in an informal show-floor poll.
"We had an opportunity for our team of seven people, our executive team and all of our senior management team, to attend," said Jeff Gietzen, vice chairman and chief executive officer of D&W Food Centers, Grand Rapids, Mich. "We have seen a lot of the pieces before, but it helps to see it put together in one approach that shows how it could be done."
Limited to three tours an hour and 55 to 60 people per tour, SuperTechMart was a high-demand exhibit at the busy FMI show. All the tours were filled, said the organizers, and more than 2,800 people went through the demonstration, most of them top retail executives.
The pavilion was comprised of a theater to welcome attendees and explain the project, followed by four vignette demonstration areas focused on demand-chain optimization and the e-enabled enterprise:
A consumer household using technologies such as scanning items and creating shopping lists, shopping on an Internet site that includes party-planning, and on-line job search and employment application.
The in-store shopping experience including self-scanning, self-checkout, frequent-shopper incentives, electronic shelf tags, greeting kiosks and a pager that alerts the store to the presence of key customers.
A store operations area demonstrating shelf restock alerts, computer-generated ordering, scan-based trading and perpetual inventory update systems, and how managers can receive, screen and process Internet job applications.
A headquarters operations area that included data mining, target marketing, decision support, demand-based replenishment, home order fulfillment, Internet-based electronic data interchange, and the automatic processing of job applicants.
"It has been a huge success, beyond our expectations," said Ken Fobes, chairman of Strategy Partners Group, Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., which produced the show in association with the FMI.
"I hope that we left the message with the CEOs that it's not whether or how you deploy technology from a tactical standpoint, it is how you deploy it from a strategic standpoint. They have all of this technology available today, but they are using it as single point solutions and not as a strategic initiative. As a result, they are not getting the real value out of technology," he said.
"No one should leave this convention without seeing SuperTechMart," said James Ukrop, chairman of Ukrop's Super Markets, Richmond, Va., speaking from the floor during a convention workshop. "It shows exactly how to use the Internet as an enabler, and how to make the store more attractive for your customers. It's all about using the Internet to do things at home to make the process of shopping much easier.
"Our thought process is going to get away from how we are going to compete against these [Internet] delivery operations and refocus on how we can use the Internet to make a better shopping experience in our own store," he said.
Dilip Popat, senior manager for information technology at J. Sainsbury plc, London, said, "We thought it was very good, particularly because it brought a number of ideas together and used all the support integration of those concepts. So, rather than just seeing individual solutions, you saw the whole experience for a customer coming together. It had some new ideas in there that we are very excited about starting to work on."
Steve Broughton, vice president and divisional merchandise manager for perishables at Wal-Mart Stores, Bentonville, Ark., said he went through the pavilion several times with vendors and other Wal-Mart executives. "I think it is awesome. It stimulates the thought process," he said.
"I thought it was very helpful in looking to see what the possibilities are, coming around the turn," said Daniel Katz, vice president of PSK Supermarkets, Mount Vernon, N.Y., which operates Foodtown stores. "I think it is a very important exhibit because the technology is moving so quickly, the retailers really need to see where it is going, as opposed to just walking around the show and getting bits and pieces," he said.
"It was great and there were a lot of things I hadn't thought about, especially the Internet-based ordering, the family that was scanning the groceries before they put them away," said Clay Bridges, category leader for non-retail procurement at H.E. Butt Grocery Co., San Antonio. "It's an experience I certainly am going to take home and talk about with the folks I work with," he said.
David Ensel, customer-service pharmacy supervisor at Ronetco Supermarkets, Ledgewood, N.J., appreciated how the exhibit took the shopping process from the customer's perspective to the store experience to corporate headquarters.
"In particular I liked being able to do the shopping list at home, and the consumer being able to send it ahead to the store. That was a real efficiency. The fact that the store manager knew that it was a child's birthday gave the mother the coupon for the free cake; that's taking care of your customer," he said.
Tom Murphy, president of Peak Tech Consulting, Colorado Springs, Colo., and a former vice president of information systems for Kroger Co., Cincinnati, also visited the exhibit. "A lot of the players in the industry have pieces of it, but this is the first time anybody has ever seen how it could all work together," he said.