With a theme of Scaling With Personalization, the synergy and excitement amongst grocery and technology executives in attendance was palpable. Brands RIS News and PG of EnsembleIQ hosted captivating and timely sessions on personalization, technology transformation, customer experience, artificial intelligence, automation, and more.
For those who missed the event or want a refresh on some of the significant topics discussed throughout these three days, we’re excited to provide highlights from all sessions below, with links to some of our expanded coverage.
Jody Kalmbach, Kroger's group vice president of product experience, had the honor of opening up day two, the primary day of the first-ever GroceryTech event. She kicked off her keynote session, noting that she started her career in marketing, but when she joined Amazon, it was a "pivotal point" for her where she moved from marketing roles to product. "So I made this pivot, and as soon as I got caught on, what is product, what does it mean? And started this cycle of building experiences, building capabilities that were really making a difference… that was it for me."
In a fireside chat with Progressive Grocer editor-in-chief Gina Acosta, Kalmbach went on to reveal her core principles of product include shifting from being output driven to being outcome-driven, using data to understand the impact of what you're doing, and reusability—removing redundancy in the tech you're building.
"And, and maybe that's not the perfect word for it (reusability), but I would think many of you in this room can understand a situation where you have disparate technology teams building solutions that are all kind of doing the same thing right? So then you end up with all this redundancy."
She noted this is a non-starter and not a path to success. "Build it once and have it have benefits across many, many business problems."
As retailers and brands work to meet shopper demand for personalized experiences, often the rush to implement new capabilities can leave the shopper's needs secondary. In the session "Keeping Shoppers at the Center of Personalization Products," Garry Church, SVP of enterprise sales, and Andy Jump, VP & GM of incentives & loyalty with Inmar Intelligence, explored the challenges and best practices for ensuring your shopper remains at the heart of your personalization ideation, product planning, and development.
Church noted that people struggle paycheck to paycheck, which should energize us to find solutions. Inmar found 60% of Americans live paycheck to paycheck, including 45% of high-income earners.
Jump took the stage and noted, "serving people is my DNA," before breaking down the three kinds of retailers when it comes to technology solutions:
- Retailers who build it alone
- The outsource everything retailer
- The hybrid, or the Goldilocks retailer
His tips to keep shoppers at the center of personalization included consistently elevating shopper feedback. "The tendency is we only ask shoppers when we have an initiative in mind." He explained we should be gathering shopper feedback with consistency. Additionally, the scope of shopper feedback is essential, and the distribution of the feedback. It's important to have partners who are also gathering and sharing information, he says.
"You don't have to be super smart." He noted that if you ask a bunch of people about products, they will tell you things, but it helps to make the feedback fun, pointing to Stichfix and Netflix as examples.
Key Themes for GroceryTech 2023
This session offered attendees insights into the intersection of technology with various labor issues. Moderated by Progressive Grocer editor-in-chief Gina Acosta, the panel featured Michael Criscuolo, VP of infrastructure and operations at Wakefern Food Corp; Rana Schiff, senior director, HR business partner, technology and digital at The Kroger; Co. and Victor Vercammen, VP of enterprise safety and healthcare compliance at Giant Eagle.
All noted that retention was difficult in today’s labor market. To counter this trend, Criscuolo observed that Wakefern was implementing robots, which the company had dubbed “co-bots,” to help associates do their jobs faster and better, and that it was working with Axonify to offer training in easy-to-digest “microbites.” Vercammen said that Giant Eagle was similarly approaching training by breaking it into several segments so employees could get out on the floor faster. Meanwhile, Schiff spoke of Kroger’s “agile programs” that sped up training in an environment where companies “don’t have the luxury of time.”
Asked about the recruitment of Gen Z and Gen Alpha associates, Vercammen noted that those demographics in particular “want their work to matter,” adding that implementing technology to free them from low-value, non-customer-facing tasks made sense for those workers.
Ultimately, however, Schiff pointed out that what’s especially important to Kroger is whether a job candidate is “a culture fit.” As she put it, “As many skills as that person could have, we don’t really want them to join the company if that’s not where they want to be and that culture doesn’t resonate for them.”
Friday, July 14
Kicking off the final morning of GroceryTech, EnsembleIQ's VP of Research Beth Brickel treated the audience to an overview of the "2023 Grocery Tech Trends Study: A Balancing Act," exclusive data not included in the study, and a panel of experts to discuss the findings.
To start, she pointed out that when grocers are asked about their tech investments, 57% of retailers expect their tech/automation spending to increase in 2023. "We've got more than half [of grocers] saying they're interested in exploring digital shelves more and getting close to that with electronic shelf labels."
When turning to the results from the shopper survey, Brickel said self-checkout leads as the most preferred method of checkout. She also noted that online shoppers are most frustrated with out-of-stocks (50%), and retailers and shoppers agree on the number one feature desired — digital discounts.
Brickel then asked the panelists questions, beginning with labor concerns around frontline workers and workforce technology.
Nick Klein, senior director of enterprise solution sales, Dematic, kicked off, noting that his experience lies with the distribution center (DC). When talking about fully automated DCs, he said, "the typical warehouse worker is intimated by that when they hear us coming. Maybe 20 years ago, that would be the case, but today, that's not the case. Automation doesn't displace jobs."
He explained that the user interface built into these systems makes it easy for the employee to operate. "They're guided to what to do next. They know exactly which product to pick, out of which box, and then which tote to put it into, step by step."
Brickel later noted that 75% of shoppers are open to trying new tech in grocery stores, "so don't be afraid to invest," but 44% are afraid of tech replacing the human team members in grocery. "How can grocers retain that human touch?"
"When you're tethered to the point of sale, you can't help customers out on the floor, right?" Jawa asked. "We're training for different skills." He noted that automation has its place, but we must find that blend and balance as consumers want a more tech-driven experience. When the staff is engaged with the tech, they train the customers to use it in the store, and tech adoption is better.