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Notes from the 13th Annual Global Electronics Marketing Conference (GEMCON)…

NAPLES, Fla. – The need for retailers to rethink the supermarket of the future came into sharp relief yesterday during several sessions conducted at GEMCON here. And while GEMCON is a conference that traditionally has focused on new and exciting technologies, these initiatives are best seen within the context of consumer needs and desires. To but it another way, rather than think of technology as defining the supermarket of the future, it makes more sense to think about how the consumer of the future will embrace and utilize new technologies.

In a terrific presentation by Ray Burke, a professor of business administration at Indiana University, it was vividly illustrated how retailers have both underestimated and misidentified the problem with the shopping experience. Thinking that sales are driven by price and product assortment, most retailers have not paid enough attention to the store environment, Burke suggested; such an approach also has the advantage of allowing the retailer to blame the supplier for most of his problems.

Using results derived from a number of different research approaches, Burke suggested that “environmental legibility” can have a substantial impact on shopper behavior, and that “consumers are less price sensitive when the psychological costs of shopping are lower.”

Under questioning during a panel discussion, Burke agreed that the shopping patterns that young people may follow in the future could well be very different than those followed by their parents, and that it is up to retailers to find ways to attract those shoppers and keep them engaged with the experience.

Also participating during the panel discussion was Bob Anderson of Stop & Shop, who spoke about his company’s test of the Shopping Buddy solution (a web-based touchscreen that attaches to shopping carts, presents personalized solutions based on previous trips accessed through the frequent shopper card, and allows consumers to scan products as they place them in the cart)…which has been successful enough that the company is planning a rollout beyond the three stores where it has been piloted.

Anderson agreed that one of the challenges facing Stop & Shop is to make sure that the concierge-style service provided in stores using the Shopping Buddy, which is designed to heighten the personal connection between retailer and consumer; to not have such an offering would depersonalize the store, which is not the goal of the service, Anderson said. And, he added, the rollout has been budgeted and people are being trained so that this service level is achieved in each store.

It is these kinds of offerings, both Burke and Anderson agreed, that will captivate the tech-driven younger generation. The general consensus seemed to be, however, that this is a constantly evolving process that must work hard to keep up with a constantly evolving consumer base.
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