THE RISE OF TECHNOLOGY as a social force is transforming society on multiple fronts, and grocery shopping is no exception. Retailers who are to be successful today need to be quick to understand how those changes are affecting shoppers — and how to cater to shoppers increasingly influenced by technology, observers say.
Take, for example, how technology has transformed the grocery store stalwart, the coupon clipper, which has followed coupons from their old home in Sunday newspapers to the new frontier of the Internet.
“The coupon clipper is no longer someone sitting on at their kitchen table clipping, they're on the Web surfing,” said Dave Marcotte, a consultant with Management Ventures, Cambridge, Mass. “That's a very different activity, and one we might not understand everything we need to know about yet.”
The clipper has been swept up in a move toward the Internet that is changing just about everything — and offers the potential to make a “techno-shopper” out of anyone. According to the “How Americas Shops 2010 Megatrends Survey” from WSL Strategic Retail, online shopping “has taken a great leap forward.”
“Once all about convenience and selection, the Internet has become the go-to channel to find the lowest prices and coupons,” the survey noted. And while the supermarket and mass merchandiser are still the top channels for women to shop weekly (they are each visited by 64% of women weekly, according to WSL) the Internet is now No. 3 with 24% of women shopping there weekly. That's up from 10% in 2008.
The growth of the Internet is not surprising. The growth of broadband access brought millions of homes into the fold. And today, growth is sparked by mobile “smartphones” with Internet access and new capabilities.
“This easier access to the Internet will make cyberspace about so much more than buying. It will play a larger role as the place where people go to find coupons, promotions, lowest prices, information they trust — all at their fingertips,” the Megatrends study said. This is “forcing traditional retailers to rethink how they communicate, connect and sell every day.”
Similarly, retailers should look to crafting a Web presence that isn't just an added convenience but a strong store on its own, the report added.
“A retailer's website cannot be an add-on. It will become … the No. 1 store, the most profitable store, and in many cases the flagship store.”
A number of supermarkets have been actively courting the newly wired (or unwired) shopper. ShopRite, Keasbey, N.J., this year launched an iPhone application allowing shoppers to easily browse its weekly circular and provided a widget to report the deals on a blog or social network. Food Lion, Salisbury, N.C., is installing kiosks at stores to provide custom coupons for shoppers using their loyalty card. A&P, Montvale, N.J., has recently taken to offering shoppers coupons via text message and applying the discounts to frequent shopper cards automatically.
This aligning of shopper with particular data to relevant offers helps to craft a personalized shopping experience that technology affords, sources said.
“Think of everything in the store as an IP address and everything communicating back and forth, that's Internet ‘cloud’ technology,” Marcotte said. “You have a store cloud and a corporate cloud and have intersection points for vendors, where you can open up your cloud for six coupons of their choice. That whole couponing thing is suddenly very different. That's really a big change.”
While a need to cater to technology-assisted shoppers is self-evident, solutions are not necessarily obvious. Examples can be found nearly every day on the Facebook site of Food Lion, which caters to its “fans” on the social networking site by making offers of text-based coupons. The comment field, however, frequently fills with unhappy shoppers for whom text messages cost what they might otherwise save, or don't have devices that can get them such offers.