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Six things we learned at Thought Leadership

Collaboration, e-commerce and big data subjects of conversation at CEO conference

More than 300 industry professionals came together at the Fairmount Royal York in Toronto on Monday for Canadian Grocer’s fourth annual Thought Leadership CEO Conference.

The sold-out conference focused on the future and the steps grocers and suppliers alike can take to stay ahead of the trends. Presentations from IGD, Aimia and Nielsen provided research analysis, while one-on-one interviews with the CEO of Metro and president of Overwaitea gave first-person insight.

Here are a few takeways:

Invest in your people

While you may have extensive plans for the future of your store, you need dependable staff to make them come to fruition. Joanne Denney-Finch, chief executive at research group IGD, talked about today's retail revolution. Her recommendations included doing the ordinary extraordinarily well, adding excitement to your store, and providing convenience to your customers. But she emphasized the importance of needing more talented people to join the industry. Solid retention of loyal staff will help secure a sustainable system for your business.

Darrell Jones, president of Overwaitea Food Group, said the success of Overwaitea’s ethnic-oriented stores has been dependent on the right products, the right mix, but also the right hiring moves. The company needed to hire staff that reflected a multicultural society.

Nothing beats impressive customer service

Today's shoppers are looking for the ultimate shopping experience. Denney-Finch noted today's shopper is looking for convenience. They want the ability to buy what they want, where they want and when they want. She referenced, for example, an Asda program in the U.K. that allows consumers to click, commute and collect. After ordering groceries from the retailer's website, the consumers pick them up from a tube station on their way home. Overwaitea's Jones says shoppers wanting flexibility in how they buy groceries was the insight that propelled his company to pilot its online shopping delivery program. "We hired people specialists and taught them to drive," he said of the program. It was the final delivery step, when the driver interacted with the customer, that would be the determining factor if the shopper used the service again, he said.

Don’t underestimate the male shopper

Don't expect to see only women perusing the aisles. Male shoppers are becoming more important, with 24% of Canadian household males doing more than 50% of the grocery shopping. Carman Allison, VP of consumer insights and Nielsen, said grocers should be able to tap into the male customer. While men are considered more efficient shoppers, they have a tendency to wing it in the aisles.

Discount stores still going strong

Eric La Flèche, CEO of Metro, agreed the growth of discount stores was a key grocery trend this year. "Millennials don't have any money, and the boomers are value conscious," he explained, noting it was the perfect formula for discount stores.

And, according to Allison, don't expect to see this trend go away anytime soon. Urbanization is impacting the way people shop. According to Allison, 12% of urban dwellers (mainly comprised of millennials) are less likely to own a car. As a result, they're looking for smaller format stores, closer to home. (After all, they can only buy as much as they can carry.) Allison also noted the next generation of consumers has been trained to look for deals and promotions.

Collaboration is key

Overwaitea's Jones and Metro's La Flèche agreed that when considering suppliers, they are looking for businesses that would be open to communication and collaboration. Jones said in an ideal world they would rather have a holistic approach with their suppliers. "You want someone that wants to build the business together with you," he explained.

La Flèche spoke to the importance of transparency, and Metro's acquisition of Premiere Moisson, a company known for its high-quality product.

Big data can lead to big results

David Buckingham, president of the U.S. division of loyalty management firm firm Aimia, used Sainsbury's as a case study for how getting a better understanding of your customer base can drive business growth. By using data, Aimia was able to identify better communication strategies to efficiently reach Sainsbury's shoppers throughout the path to purchase.

Metro's La Flèche said the company engages with more than two million contacts each week through its loyalty program. The retailer focuses on its most loyal customers to get them to engage more, primarily through personalized emails. "No one's 100% loyal except my wife," he joked, noting continuous customer engagement is key to encourage customer spend.

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