Ashley Nickle ( The Packer staff )

LAS VEGAS — Groceryshop once again gave a big-picture look at how retailers are adapting to stay relevant as the industry continues to change.

The event does not have much produce-specific content, but it does have a staggering lineup of speakers from retailers large and small, and they present on a variety of topics. Companies represented this year include Walmart, Kroger, Albertsons, Ahold Delhaize, Sam’s Club, SpartanNash, Schnucks, Wakefern, Weis Markets, Fresh Thyme Farmers Market, Brookshire, Martin’s Super Markets, Loblaw, Raley’s and Heinen’s.

Executives from each of these companies gave insight on how they are planning for the future in a number of areas — how they choose store locations, how they improve the mobile shopping experience, how they use data, and how they determine which technologies to pursue and which to dismiss as fun “shiny objects” ultimately not worth investing in. 

Other speakers discussed brand-building, unique partnerships with suppliers, and the possibility of subscription services for grocery.

I find the event compelling because it gives a glimpse of the shifting landscape of grocery retail. It is critical to understand where the overall industry is headed because, with that insight, produce companies can get a better idea of how they need to be preparing to fit into the ever-changing environment.

Getting a feel for how online order fulfillment will change the industry should be a priority for produce industry members. You only have to look as far as the investments of Walmart and Kroger to see how committed they are to this new format. Kroger is spending tens of millions per automated fulfillment center (with 20 planned already) and Walmart has already retrofitted thousands of stores for grocery pickup.

A note on Walmart’s service, by the way. I’ve used grocery pickup there a number of times, and almost every time I have had a positive experience. Recently I stopped by with my husband, expecting to be in and out of the pickup area in a few minutes, but due to what I imagine was some kind of technological snafu, we were there for almost 20 minutes. 

Here’s how Walmart responded when made aware of the issue. First, they got people on site on the issue relatively quickly — we hadn’t been the only ones waiting — and gave us a $10 gift card for our trouble. Second, when I filled out the follow-up survey sent to my e-mail and explained what had happened, I quickly received a personal reply that included an apology and a code for another $10 discount. The next day I received not one but two calls from the company about the issue, apologizing and asking me to reach out if there was anything else they could do.

This is the moral of the story: the biggest player in the grocery industry has a lot at stake when it comes to online, and it is pulling out all the stops to make it work.

Since basically all other grocery stores compete with Walmart, they need to be thinking hard about what consumer experience they provide in this new omnichannel age.

Ashley Nickle is editor of Produce Retailer. E-mail her at [email protected]

 
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