Three tips for delivering a better Thanksgiving shopping experience

By Eric Shea, Partner, Kurt Salmon Digital

With Thanksgiving just one week away, consumers are starting to plan their holiday menus and write their (extensive) shopping lists. While traditional dishes like stuffing, green bean casserole and marshmallow yams are sure to be on the table, the ways in which people are buying their ingredients have changed. More and more, we're seeing consumers opt for convenient grocery services like Peapod or Amazon rather than traveling to crowded stores.

Should this trend continue, traditional supermarkets' share of grocery dollars will sink to just 37 percent by 2018, according to a Willard Bishop JLL report.

To stay competitive, grocery stores need to rethink how they're engaging busy shoppers—especially during the holiday season. For some, like U.K.-based Sainsbury's, this means adopting a highly customized approach based on what they know about customers from their communication across channels. For others, it may mean investing in new technologies that offer the efficiency of online, plus the added perk of face-to-face interaction.

Mobile apps
The phrase, "There's an app for that," came about for a reason. According to a study by Silentnight, the average person spends eight hours and 41 minutes on his/her phone each day. With people almost constantly glued to their phones, retailers must consider creating apps that allow consumers to browse options and select items available at their local stores at their convenience. By choosing items on their app in advance, shoppers can be in and out of stores in no time, spending more time cooking with their families and less time in crowded aisles.

Interactive tablets for associates
What do toothpicks, coconut milk and sun-dried tomatoes have in common? They are among the top 10 hardest-to-find items in the grocery store. When shoppers are scanning each aisle and shelf looking for these, and other goods, they waste tons of time and energy. They become resentful and wish they had just ordered groceries online.

Stores however, can easily help eliminate this frustration by arming sales associates with smartphones and tablets that let them quickly identify which items are on each shelf in every aisle. This helps associates not only point shoppers in the right direction, but make smart decisions about stocking the aisles with popular items. In November, for instance, those items will likely include potatoes and cranberries.

Geolocation tools
Not only can stores help shoppers identify what they need—and quickly—they can anticipate what consumers may have forgotten or not even realized they needed. Using geolocation tools like beacons, supermarkets can connect with shoppers' smartphones to improve their in-store experience. Beacons, which rely on Bluetooth technology, detect nearby devices and send shoppers alerts, including ads, coupons or product information. For instance, a beacon may detect that a shopper is looking at the turkey selection and ping them with information on discounted stuffing.

Grocery retailers can also use these beacons to collect information on customers, such as how they make their way through the store. This kind of knowledge may impact how retailers choose to lay out their space.

As technologies like beacons, mobile apps and smart devices become more commonplace, it's imperative that grocery stores work them into their customer engagement strategies to beat out mounting competition from e-commerce channels and delivery services. Tapping these technologies will enable grocery stores to deliver what's most important: good customer service.

By picking technologies that work well for their audiences, supermarkets can provide a more enjoyable and valuable experience, and hopefully cultivate lifelong customers.

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