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Blog | Grocery Stores Use Technology to Fight Inflation

By Andrea Poley

Jul 24, 2022

Grocery stores are the messengers of soaring prices, but there are options they can take to manage the transition well and come out with increased loyalty.

Grocery Dive, one of my go-to pubs for the latest industry news, recently published an article on rising grocery prices and inflation . The news is pretty gloomy and the headline says it all: “Grocery prices soar 12.2% as inflation hits fresh four-decade high.” This is of course something we’ve all experienced in our weekly shopping trips or online orders — prices have been rising for a while now, but seeing 12.2% is still pretty startling. My mind goes to the shopper point of view, where sticker shock is real. It’s never fun to be surprised when paying more. This leads to frustration, which can cancel future store visits, even from loyal customers.

It’s truly not all doom and gloom.

Mitigating Frustration over Grocery Inflation with Convenient Tech

There is an opportunity to retain your loyal customers (and steal the loyalty of frustrated shoppers coming from other stores to yours) by making your store experience convenient, easy and valuable through technology. This applies to labor, efficiency and supply challenges as well. Now is the time to get some technology — digital signs, digital menu boards, self-ordering kiosks, price checkers — into the store. Let them prove their effectiveness and achieve immediate impact before scaling them out. While global challenges persist, work toward retaining those shoppers you worked so hard to gain in the first place.

Digital signs throughout the store are foundational for a modern look, and for clear communication, easing a lot of the pain these challenges bring. Digital signs and digital solutions throughout the grocery store are the vehicle to communicate with customers, employees and third-party delivery shoppers. Inflation and rising prices are going to meet customers anywhere they shop, but digital signs communicating current prices, sales and promotions throughout the store ensure that shoppers are well informed.

Looking at an adjacent industry, digital menu boards have been widely adopted by quick service restaurants — the restaurant looks modern, the food looks much more appealing, the menu offering stays accurate and there’s an opportunity for in-the-moment content customization. There are many parallels here. If I’m at the seafood counter choosing dinner, digital menu boards that clearly highlight the wild caught shrimp, along with the current price and even a recipe very well may entice me to make shrimp scampi for dinner. Print signs are fine to show price (as long as it doesn’t need to be quickly updated!). But, just like in a commercial, imagine seeing a flame and the shrimp sizzling in the pan. Another example, near the specialty cheeses if there is a promotion on brie, digital signs can be updated to show complementary items like chutney and puff pastry. Digital signs near the greeting cards can showcase the freshest floral arrangements. The possibilities are limited only to your in-store communications strategy and goals.

Use digital signs for clear communication

Clear communication isn’t limited to price changes. Another recent article in Grocery Dive showed how often shoppers are following approaches to eating — nearly 50% of the surveyed respondents said diets like low-carb diets or plant-forward eating is practiced in their household. Digital signs can run cleanly designed, looping content that guides shoppers toward relevant products, suggest recipes, complementary items and more. Strategically placed digital displays showing rotating, compelling imagery and video of these diet-friendly ideas can easily inspire new or add-on purchases. This can be controlled not only at the store level, but also by department. Why show the same shrimp scampi video in the vegan or vegetarian section of the store or aisle? And this on-screen messaging relevance extends to other areas, similar to a quick service restaurant’s digital menu offering. Why show hot chocolate if the outside temperature spikes above 60 that day? Why promote orange juice at night when it only sells in the morning? A relatively simple content strategy can ensure that shoppers feel known and have had their store visit tailored to their preferences as well as conditional factors…

In the back of the house, digital signs can be used to communicate with employees about wide ranging topics such as timely promotions, safety protocols, daily merchandising information, HR updates, employee accolades and more. With employee retention being vitally important, digital signs have been proven to increase engagement and workplace satisfaction.

Mitigate food waste

With sky high prices, the need to reduce waste is high on the priority list. Since digital signs and menu boards allow for in-the-moment updating, prices or promotions can be immediately updated to move product. When alerted to high stock, the price can be easily adjusted and shelf-edge digital displays can dynamically change content to feature special promotions.

This drives sales of surplus produce, reduces food waste and provides store-level management with the ability to make autonomous decisions to increase the operational efficiency of their store. Shoppers benefit as well, taking advantage of flash sales or non-advertised prices passed along by the store manager. About one-third of the most price-sensitive shoppers will swap brand loyalty while in store as a result of higher prices. Being able to change prices in the moment provides customers with cost savings opportunities and ultimately higher satisfaction with their store visit.

And multiple studies show that shoppers (increasingly) care about food waste and sustainability. A digital sign can help tell the story of how your store or brand is doing their part for the planet. I personally would love to see how my favorite grocery brand is saving X pounds of food yearly, or reducing shipping emissions or even helping on a local level by selling from regional farms.

Digitize the aisle and end caps

Don’t think of digital signage as simply large format displays hanging on the walls. Digital communication can come in the form of huge video wall productions down to mobile communications, or an integration of everything in between. It’s hard not to have your attention drawn to compelling images on a digital display while in an environment, like a grocery store, where things are traditionally very static. Pinned up weekly flyers, aisles of paper price signs, third-party brand pop-up promotions can be enhanced or replaced with technology — digital solutions such as small format, sleek interactive tablets, digital shelf edge displays, interactive kiosks and price checkers enhance the shopping experience. Digitizing high-value end cap displays can attract the biggest brands to take advantage of that area of the store. Think of digital shelf edge drawing in customers while a tablet shows red, white and blue imagery and video of the latest Fourth of July-themed candy or cookies.

At recent trade shows, one of our new digital solutions was getting a lot of attention. Our Assisted Selling Kiosk (or ASK™  for short)  is a standalone kiosk where a high value item, like wine or olive oil, can be an example of experiential retail in the grocery store. This solution allows for specialty product discovery without the need for an on-site dedicated sales associate to be manning the fixture or area. Once a shopper lifts a bottle of wine, on-screen content updates with details, helping the shopper compare the aspects of the different wines, and assisting with product selection. A digital shelf edge display allows for price updates, but also for greater interactivity. We integrated a virtual sales associate. A live video feed and speakers connect the shopper to a product expert, who listens to their needs and makes a product recommendation. Are they making beef or fish? Is the food spicy? What are the hosts’ preferences? The live expert walks the shopper through product discovery and selection. And while prices may be higher, there is a sense of confidence and value that the shopper is left with. Which leads to one more in-store technology benefit …

Make the experience as valuable as possible

Technology and digital solutions are going to immediately modernize the store and increase perceived value. With the height of inflation and customers parting with their hard earned money, instilling a sense of value, as well as convenience, speed of service and general ease of shopping is so important. Points of convenience, experiential retail, help with product discovery, automation — these are all going to drive repeat visits. Consumer sentiment shows that they are often OK parting with a little more of that hard earned money if the value they get is high. Experiences like smart curbside pickup, where digital signage clearly shows direction and procedure, queue status and wait time, can make me drive further and spend a little more. Inside the store, mature, proven technology allows retailers to implement solutions such as smart pickup shelves, using digital shelf edge displays, to drive higher efficiency. As worker turnover increases, technology can ensure that new staff is up-to-speed quickly and how to deliver a positive experience, as well as a consistent experience across visits and across stores.

Technology has proven value in meeting day-to-day challenges in three major industry topics — supply, labor and inflation. It’s important to work with a tech partner who understands the full scope of bringing in digital signs and scaling — placement, the components of a digital sign or digital menu board, managing multiple communication points in the store, creating a content strategy (this is absolutely key), tapping shopper loyalty, implementation, support, scale and more.

Check out how LEGO is making a big impact using Scala technology throughout their Trafford Centre store.

Written by Andrea Poley

Director, Global Communications & Digital Marketing