- A report from tech firm Interactions finds that consumers want store technology to improve their shopping experience, but they also want store employees to greet them and be on hand to help, according to Grocery Headquarters.
- Mobile notifications and automated checkout were two areas highlighted for tech advancements: 60% of 1,000 shoppers surveyed said they would spend more at a store that sent them regular notifications, while just 10% said they wanted a store employee to ring them up.
- At the same time, 62% of shoppers said they want an associate to greet them upon entering the store.
Five years ago, Wal-Mart did away with its store greeters, who for 30 years had stood at the front of every location welcoming shoppers as they came in. The move, which the company instituted to save money and improve store efficiency, didn’t last long: Last year, Wal-Mart reinstated its greeters in its 5,000 nationwide stores.
Why the reversal? Because Wal-Mart realized that even as it was remodeling and adding in layers of technology to make its stores more efficient, the human element of shopping is also very important. Shoppers want digital coupons, faster checkouts and custom offers — but they also want someone to say “hello” to them.
That human element is a critical part of a positive shopping experience, the report by Interactions suggests. But the report also seems to indicate that striking the right balance between the technological and human elements of grocery retail could be key to keeping stores relevant in the e-commerce era.
Could a store that offers cutting-edge technology and friendly service be more attractive than shopping online? Certainly, most customers still do their shopping in stores these days, but that’s changing quickly. The Food Marketing Institute and Nielsen estimate that by 2025, 20% of all grocery purchases will happen online — up from about 2% currently. E-commerce is becoming more and more attractive to shoppers, but could physical stores retain and even gain share by effectively marrying the ages-old art of customer service to tech advancements that make shopping more efficient?
The report also raises important questions about store labor. Many retailers are cutting back on employees in favor of automated systems, self-service stations and other measures. Some, like Aldi, Sprouts Farmers Market and the forthcoming Lidl, staff very few associates in their stores. Reduced labor saves money, but these stores could risk feeling too austere to customers.