Grocery Shopping

3 Ways Grocers Can Provide Stronger Customer Engagement

Thought leaders share various ways to build more lasting connections with shoppers
Jenny McTaggart
Contributing Editor
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Customer engagement is a hot topic in retail circles these days, and for good reason — supermarkets are looking for new ways to attract and retain shoppers who have been shifting their spending to a multitude of channels.

To help provide some inspiration, Progressive Grocer spoke with several thought leaders who are in the trenches of customer engagement both in-store and online. Their work ranges from industrial design to artificial intelligence, as well as the emerging medium of retail media networks. Read on to discover ways that you can provide stronger customer engagement.

[Read more: "How Retail Media Is Becoming a Circular Movement"]

1. Rethink your design, in-store and online

Syracuse, N.Y.-based ChaseDesign has been behind some innovative redesigns in the aisles of various supermarket and supercenter chains, and now its work is broadening into the world of e-commerce. The company uses its background in industrial design to rethink the way aisles are arranged, and to explore how categories could be better laid out to more effectively serve shoppers and boost basket size. Among its more recent work is a coffee aisle reinvention at Giant Eagle (led by a collaboration with Smuckers) and a redo of Walmart’s front end/self-checkout, facilitated by Coca-Cola.

Walmart front end/self checkout
ChaseDesign recently worked on a redo of Walmart's front end/self-checkout, facilitated by Coca-Cola, to make the self-checkout process more convenient for shoppers while bringing back impulse sales for Walmart.

The front end project made the self-checkout process more convenient for shoppers while bringing back impulse sales for Walmart, explains ChaseDesign’s CEO, Joe Lampertius. “Even though retailers like Walmart were saving on labor costs, they were experiencing a huge drop in impulse sales because the shopper had to stay focused on the checkout process,” notes Lampertius. “We created this whole grab-and-go section that’s kind of like a mini convenience store at the front of the store.”

Now that the design firm has mastered in-store redesigns, it’s also working with several center store brands and key grocers to improve the experience of their e-commerce operations, he says. “A lot of our reinvention work is actually easier to do in the store than online, and that’s mainly because of limitations with wireframes and advertising dollars tied to those wireframes,” adds Lampertius.

Still, the company is making inroads in helping retailers rethink how to make their online shopping experience more intuitive — and thus lucrative. For instance, shoppers who search for a particular brand of pasta sauce on a retailer’s website now see various sizes and flavors laid out on the same page as the product they searched for. “We’re trying to replicate the in-store experience and give shoppers an incentive to buy more,” says Lampertius.

Shekhar Raman, Birdzi
“It will become increasingly important in retail and food marketing to emphasize adding value to the consumer’s life,” says Shekhar Raman, Birdzi.

2. Get personal with AI

Iselin, N.J.-based Birdzi is a customer intelligence firm that helps smaller, regional grocers provide more personalized experiences through their loyalty programs, with the help of artificial-intelligence (AI) technology. In doing so, it claims to be driving loyalty, more frequent visits and larger basket sizes at such retailers as Weis Markets, Brookshire Grocery Co., Berkot’s, and Strack & Van Til.

Shekar Raman, Birdzi’s CEO, explains that the company’s platform uses the “mountain of data” that grocers have access to and turns it into insights that improve customer engagement. Using data from loyalty programs, combined with information about a customer’s frequency of visits, typical price points and more, Birdzi’s AI system can drill down to provide personalized e-mails with promotions that are uniquely tailored to individual shoppers. “This is what makes the technology so personal, and it makes the customer feel like the retailer is fully engaged with them,” says Raman.

In addition, Birdzi’s AI engine incorporates a retailer’s entire store catalog — not just the brands that have existing promotional deals — and can track a shopper’s preferred brands and openness to private label brands, so retailers can tailor their offers around brand preference.

Behind the bells and whistles, Raman maintains that the latest technology has a role to play both online and in the store for grocers that want to improve customer engagement. “Physical stores are an incredibly valuable tool for the omnichannel experience,” he says. “For example, customers can receive location-based push notifications with relevant promotions and incentives while they’re shopping in store, and retailers can create easy-to-use mobile apps that provide shoppers with product location and label information right at their fingertips. The goal is to ease the shopping experience for consumers.”

Looking ahead to the future, Raman stresses that “it will become increasingly important in retail and food marketing to emphasize adding value to the consumer’s life.” But to do so, retailers need to understand what truly adds value to each shopper’s life, whether it be specific diet limitations and health preferences or just saving more money on their weekly groceries, he points out.

Similar to Birdzi, Raleigh, N.C.-based GK is helping retailers boost and maintain customer engagement through AI-powered loyalty programs. The company’s latest innovation, GK Engage, helps retailers elevate their loyalty programs, delivering real-time rewards while efficiently managing loyalty tiers for ongoing data-driven engagement. GK Engage is currently being deployed in Europe by a large supermarket chain.

Michael Jaszczyk, CEO of GK Americas and chief digital transformation officer at GK, says that AI should enhance, not replace, the personal connection between grocers and shoppers. “By automating and tailoring recommendations and promotions on loyalty apps with AI, retailers create a positive digital experience that is equally as customized and special as when shoppers interact with in-store associates,” says Jaszczyk.

Jason Farver, Hy-Vee RedMedia
“Our network is primarily about personalization for each customer,” says Jason Farver, Hy-Vee RedMedia.

3. Consider a retail media network

While retail media networks are still relatively new, a growing number of grocers are investing in the medium to make more meaningful connections with their most loyal customers. Hy-Vee’s RedMedia was designed to better connect brands to the retailer’s diverse consumer base across a wide range of channels, encompassing traditional, in-store and digital properties, according to Jason Farver, EVP at West Des Moines, Iowa-based Hy-Vee and president of Hy-Vee RedMedia.

“Our network is primarily about personalization for each customer,” he says. “If we ensure that our customers will only see offers for products that they will most likely purchase, then we are providing a great experience for them, which is paramount for building brand loyalty.” Hy-Vee’s CPG partners also appreciate the higher ROI on their marketing spend, he adds.

Farver estimates that 80% of Hy-Vee’s customers consistently engage with the retailer digitally, but he notes that even some younger shoppers prefer to shop in the physical store. In that case, the retailer has digital screens to engage them.

Further east, Pittsburgh-based Giant Eagle began developing its retail media network, Leap Media Group, as an internal marketing agency to create a more seamless experience for the regional chain, explains Joell Robinson, Giant Eagle senior director, Leap Media & Sales. Today, Giant Eagle’s loyalty program “lives at the foundation” of Leap, influencing the company’s decision-making and personalization efforts, says Robinson. “Having such a high percentage of loyal customers enhances their experience through personalization,” she says. “When customers continue to see what matters most to them, customer engagement naturally rises.”

Meanwhile, the CPG companies that work with Leap have been attracted to the closed-loop measurement offered by the retailer. “We can provide transparent measurement to our partners, but it also allows our media team more insights to make smart, data-driven decisions,” explains Robinson. 

    Bring Health and Wellness Home

    Healthie, a New York-based telehealth and client engagement platform, is being leveraged by several grocers, including Big Y, Weis Markets and Hy-Vee, to help deliver more personalized, digital health-related services. Examples include personalized counseling sessions, interactive group workshops and cooking classes. Healthie’s platform also features an instant messaging function that enables shoppers to send messages to registered dietitians who work for the retailer.

    Beth Stark, RDN, LDN, who works with Healthie’s Retail Nutrition Partnerships, notes that the messaging function drives loyalty because customers end up creating meaningful relationships with a member of the retailer’s dietitian team who can guide them on a path to better health.

    Some of Healthie’s retailer clients are tying in their loyalty programs with the service to help address their shoppers’ unique health needs and concerns, says Stark. “This approach also allows retailers to reward participants for their involvement with exclusive promotional offers on specific products or savings on their orders. It’s a win-win for the shopper and the retailer.”

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