Physical stores will continue to occupy an important place in tomorrow’s grocery landscape despite greater automation of staple purchases, the IGD has forecast.
Chief executive of the British grocery research charity Joanne Denney-Finch told delegates at the Canadian Grocer Thought Leadership Conference in Toronto that retailing is splitting into two parts: “One largely automated and super-efficient and the other based on delivering inspiration.”
Drawing on examples of best practice from global retailers and manufacturers, the IGD chief detailed how greater automation of everyday, staple purchases will drive shoppers to seek out excitement and creativity through in-store grocery shopping.
“Eventually distribution centres will be operated almost entirely by robots and trucks will drive themselves,” she said. “Our smart appliances will use sensors to guarantee great cooking results and people will hand over many decisions to their smart devices. We’ll sign up to long-term deals, because that will be simplest and deliver best value. So as shoppers, our key staple items will turn up just in time, whenever we need them.
“But on the other hand, as people’s lives keep growing more hectic, so spontaneous buying and eating will also be even more popular. Online services will respond to this too, with meal kits and ready to eat food delivered to the door at rapid speed, but physical stores will always have the edge for instant gratification and for products we like to see before we buy.”
Stores in the most convenient locations, such as train stations, will be more favourable for shoppers in the future, so big stores will have to work harder to entice people, Denney-Finch believes.
She said: “They’ll become much more exciting, featuring lots of fresh food, new products, special events and more ways to taste, learn and discover. Experts will be on hand to give advice and deliver personal service. Branded manufacturers will be helping their retail customers to differentiate and deliver excitement because those that don’t will be marginalised.”
Retailers will also “compete fiercely over health”, she said. “They’ll give the healthiest food the best locations supported through their pricing and promotions. And the provenance of food and the ethics behind it will be hugely important. It’ll be an even more transparent world and progressive companies will celebrate this. They’ll be really proud of the standards at every point of the chain for all the food they sell.”
In order to achieve these changes the IGD chief stresses that retailers will need to invest in creativity and product expertise, with more staff in store who can advise and recommend. “The more automated life becomes, the more essential it’ll be for companies to have a friendly face and to bring their brands to life with a unique personality,” she said.