At Stores conference: recipe apps, tech-savvy consumers…and Target

6/7/2011

Last year, after the Apple iPad tablet computer was launched, officials at Loblaw Companies came across an interesting bit of information. Among the most popular accessories bought by new iPad owners was a stand so they could place the iPad in their kitchen.

That consumer insight nugget helped lead Loblaw to develop its iPad "Recipe Box" application last year.

“The tablet is really another kitchen appliance,” Allan Lindsay, vice-president of marketing at Loblaw, explained in a session at the Retail Council of Canada "Store" conference in Toronto on Monday.

Capitalizing on such insights and understanding how consumers are increasingly using technology was a recurring theme of the conference's first day.

In a speech on consumer use of technology, Melissa Schaefer, researcher at the IBM Institute for Business Value, said that people increasingly do all their product research online. But they still want retailers to provide incredible levels of personalized service when they do head into the stores.

Schaefer said technology could be part of that personalized service and cited research showing that 72% of consumers want more technological options to shop, whether it be in-store kiosks, or the ability to shop through TV and smartphones.

She advised retailers to stop naming their store-level staff “sales associates” and instead use a term more appropriate today: “service associates.”

Loblaw’s iPad app is certainly one example of how retailers are talking to consumers in new and interesting ways.

The app, which is free to download, has some 900 recipes. Consumers can search for a recipe using various methods, such as the main ingredient, by health criteria, prep time, occasion and difficulty in preparation.

Since its launch in December, the app has been downloaded 100,000 times with 1.25 million recipes viewed. Loblaw also continues to refine it to address customer preferences. It has, for instance, added more videos with cooking tips.

Shopper insights was also discussed during a panel session on the future of Canada’s retail economy. The panel, led by KPMG’s global chairman of consumer markets, Willy Kruh, generally agreed the Canadian economy is strong and consumers are leading us out of the recession.

Even the unemployment rate, which currently stands at 7.6% isn’t that much higher than its 10-year average of 7.1%, said Dawn Desjardins, assistant chief economist at RBC.

Our high dollar and sustained recovery is one reason so many U.S. retailers, such as Target, are how moving north of the border.

However, those chains will also bring with them U.S.-style promotional pressures and Canadian consumers are increasingly expecting retailers to offer big deals on an ongoing basis, said retail consultant Len Kubas.

Target seemed to be on many minds during the conference and its name came up often during sessions.

In one, Antony Karabus, leader of PWC’s retail consulting services group, suggested that Target’s impact on Canadian retail could be the biggest this country has seen since Wal-Mart’s arrival in the early 1990s. He reminded delegates that Wal-Mart has grown its sales from about $1 billion from the Woolco stores it purchased to an estimated $15 billion. Target has said it expects sales of $6 billion in Canada by 2017.

The Retail Council’s Store conference continues today.

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