- The latest technology isn't just for the big retailers any more, according to The Shelby Report. More independent food stores are getting the opportunity to test and use cutting-edge technologies such as aisle-scanning robots, artificial intelligence and checkout-free shopping.
- Bell's Food Store, an independent grocer in Athens, Georgia, is testing a shelf-scanning robot for store shelf analytics and insight. The robot goes aisle-to-aisle when the store is closed and reveals inventory inconsistencies, pricing issues and promotional display problems.
- Meal kit maker and distributor Strong Foods is working with iGrabit, an artificial intelligence based personal grocery shopping assistant, to launch a meal kit program for independent grocers, The Shelby Report also reported. With the iGrabit app, shoppers can order meal kits and other groceries online for pickup at the store. The app includes features such as home refrigerator and pantry tracking and grocery list-sharing.
Most of the latest and greatest technology is either developed by or first offered to big retailers. But as tech companies fight for food retail business, smaller independent operators are gaining access, too.
Any one technology will not make a difference in a small grocer's competitive position against the chains, but if it is part of a savvy marketing strategy designed to personalize service and set stores apart, it can help build sales.
Still, this is easier said than done. While large grocers like Walmart and Kroger have the capital to test new concepts, and to fail, independent grocers oftentimes don't have that luxury. With a daunting number of new technologies available, where do they invest?
As any industry analyst will attest, independent grocers can differentiate themselves on their customer service and in-store experience. Technology that enhances these core strengths can be a worthwhile investment. At the same time, small operators need to make sure they're operating efficiently. Updating backroom systems, or even investing in a targeted artificial intelligence program, could improve margins.
Some independents are finding skip-checkout technology to be within reach. In Utah, 12-store Macey's has adopted a mobile app program that lets shoppers scan items as they make their way through the store, then pay using a pre-loaded credit card. In the northeast, ShopRite rolled out a Mobile Scan program that offers a similar capability.
Independent grocers can't expect to go toe-to-toe with national players like Walmart and Whole Foods. But by strategically adopting technologies that enhance their unique positioning, they can certainly offer a more compelling alternative for shoppers.