Sanet Yelland
Sanet Yelland

Welcome to the digital food aisle

by Sanet Yelland. The changing role of the grocery aisle and the digital shifts in consumption behaviour.

by Sanet Yelland. Over the past year, we have seen just how much the ecommerce customer shopping landscape and new behaviours have transformed the retail landscape from traditional brick and mortar to omnichannel. Of particular interest in the shopping experience are the changing role of the grocery aisle and the digital shifts in consumption behaviour that was once so heavily tactile and experiential, to arguably being more digitised and engaging than ever before.

Here are some of the key technology trends and forces (both globally and locally) that radically shape new ways to shop the grocery category and create new behaviours from shoppers.

#Trend 1 – Contactless convenience first

The accelerated pandemic health concern in shopping has led to both retailers and brands alike looking for tech-based solutions that reassure shoppers that convenience and safety are first and foremost of the value they offer.

Shopper mindset change: I don’t necessarily want to engage in long browsing time. Make the solution accessible and tech solution-driven to avoid unnecessary dwell time. Veeve makes a smart shopping cart with cameras and sensors that track what you place in it and charges you upon exiting the store. Customers scan a QR code to log in. The cart is equipped with sensors and cameras that automatically identify products as they’re placed inside. It calculates the cost of the order and charges shoppers on their way out of the store, eliminating the need to stand in line.

#Trend 2 – Smarter food

The fresh deli and salad bar area in most grocery shops is usually buzzing. Help yourself combinations, and open area delis are things of the past where safety and health concerns are of the utmost importance.

Shopper mindset change: Rather than avoid a specific food zone or move entirely to pre-packaged meals, innovative experiences can retain a shopper customer through both “experiential reassurance” and even grow the category with new ways to explore the combinations. San Francisco Bay Area producer of Chowbotics has capitalised on the opportunity to bring to life a robotic salad bar called Sally the robot. The next-generation vending machine is seen as a healthy, hygienic and safe way to dispense salad to consumers in grocery stores, hospitals, and college campuses. In contrast, buffets and self-serve salad bars struggle to survive.

#Trend 3 – Micro fulfilment

There is going to be greater demand for hyper-personalisation from grocery shopping. Part of this shift has been consumer demand for more variety, for example, in dietary needs, micro-occasional requirements and improved health goals. This rapid switch in consumer demand, combined with emerging technologies and trends, will lead to a ‘supermarket of the future’.

Shopper mindset change: Rather than choosing between physical or digital, retailers will create more agility and flexibility in their solutions, which will meet customers hyper-personalisation and customised experiences. Examples of this will include urban vs suburban, delivery vs pick-up, scheduled vs immediate. Walmart has launched a new membership programme that aims to bring together in-store and online benefits to save customers money and time (aligned to their value proposition). By cleverly combining a subscription-based model to valued delivery experiences for the shopper, they bundle convenience, value and safety into a holistic package of subscription model benefits. “Walmart+ is designed to make shopping easier – giving customers an option not to have to sacrifice on cost or convenience,” said Janey Whiteside, chief customer officer, Walmart. “We know shopping should fit customers’ needs, not the other way around. We have always been a champion for the right item at the right price, but now it’s more than that. We have the right shopping solutions at the right time, too.”

#Trend 4 – The bulk of innovation

Many retailers have embraced the unbranded bulk food aisle with a strategy to sustainably sourced, less waste packaging and aim to educate shoppers on the responsibility of purposeful refills. While there is no doubt that this carries an enormous value on sustainable packaging and less wastage footprint, the strategy is not always profitable for retailers. The MIWA system in global retailers is based on the principles of the circular economy and, in particular on reusable packaging. It has  created a system of reusable capsules, which by using smart technology, enable less wastage and impact on consumption. The experience of the aisle is differentiated in both the product dispensing experience and the in-app shopper experience of understanding the effect you can play in supporting your less waste impact purchase.


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Sanet Yelland is the CEO and founder of Streamline Advertising, a full service agency. She has worked across the industry for 30 years, on clients within financial services, wholesale, retail, FMCG and government sectors on notable brands, including Massmart, Dis-chem, SAA, City of Johannesburg, Nedbank, Absa Bank, and Pick ‘n Pay (Score Supermarkets and RiteValue brands). Yelland started the Young Community Shapers initiative in 2000. This project acknowledges and celebrates the achievements of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds by providing funding, bursaries, and mentorship.


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