As the world continues to seek a return to pre-pandemic normalcy in 2023, it seems certain the grocery sector will continue to see an accelerated shift toward automation.
There are a few reasons for this: consumer behaviours changed by the pandemic – including the shift to self-serve and digital transactions – are here to stay; automation is one way to mitigate the labour problem, and there’s the progress and innovation in the technology itself.
While most may think of self-checkout systems, service kiosks, touch point-of-sale (POS) terminals and so on, there are more and more examples of automation being used to improve stocking, merchandising, order fulfilment and delivery, to say nothing of the distribution centres that are nearly fully automated.
Research firm imarc predicts the global retail automation market will grow to US$26.3 billion by 2027 (from $15.1 billion in 2021). And McKinsey believes the automation opportunity in grocery is high compared to other industries. “Research suggests one third of grocery retail tasks could be automated over the next eight years,” the firm concludes
E-commerce adoption exploded during COVID-19 as consumers looked for a safe and reliable way to shop for groceries. Though e-commerce activity has slowed with the easing of restrictions and the rollout of vaccinations, there is still room for it to grow and in ways some grocers may not have considered.
Customers are no longer satisfied having static relationships with the companies they buy from, which is why enhanced customer service is key. Take chatbots, for instance – one of Hootsuite’s top 10 retail trends for 2023 – which can answer your customer's questions, automate personalized shopping experiences, provide multilingual support and gather feedback and data. “They can do all this at any time of day, without getting tired, and without the need to pay multiple salaries,” says Hootsuite. “Chatbots are, in essence, the perfect addition to any retail team hoping to provide an omnichannel experience for customer support.”
TikTok and shop
Should you be on TikTok? A better question might be why aren’t you on it already? TikTok only arrived in North America in 2018, but the short-form, video-sharing app became a social and pop culture juggernaut during the pandemic, growing with such pace and energy that business and media experts are still trying to make sense of it.
One thing’s for sure, TikTok has become a powerful platform for food. Recipes and cooking is always a top category on the app, and when something foodie goes viral on TikTok (like using dates to make Snicker-bar facsimiles) it can cause a run on ingredients at grocery stores. If you want to be talking with consumers about food – or listening to what they are saying about food— – yeah, you want to be on TikTok.
It’s clear TikTok wants to expand its social commerce business: making it easier for users to buy items without leaving the app. And the fact Walmart expressed interest in buying TikTok says a lot about the perceived value to retailers. For now, it seems likely 2023 will be about more people consuming more food content on TikTok, so start figuring out if you can make any other chocolate bars with dates.
This article was first featured in Canadian Grocer’s December/January issue.