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It's Personal: An article from Progressive Grocer

Consider taking these steps toward more customized digital marketing solutions in 2019.


By Randy Hofbauer

**This article first appeared in the March 2019 issue of Progressive Grocer. See the full issue here.

Today's brands exist in an age when every fan wishes to engage on a personal level  — and the most beloved brands out there know how to do so. That reality is no different for grocers, which are expected to reach every customer by understanding needs and guiding each person along the path to purchase in the most friction-less way possible.

Some 90 percent of respondents to a 2017 survey said that they find personalization appealing, and 80 percent said that they would be more likely to do business with a company if it offers personalized experiences, according to "The Power of Me: The Impact of Personalization on Marketing Performance," a 2018 report from Irving, Texas-based digital marketing firm Epsilon. Moreover, consumers who believe personalized experiences are very appealing are 10 times more likely to be a brand's most valuable customer — those expected to make 15-plus transactions in one year. And those respondents who believe that companies are doing very well on offering personalized experiences shop more than three times more frequently.

The fact is, you can't be a truly progressive grocer today and not offer personalized marketing to your shoppers, and this is only going to become more pressing in the coming years.

To offer more personalized marketing, consider doing the following:

Unifying Data Across Disparate Systems

Understanding the shopper is a data-intensive process, and all too often, there are too many barriers to communication between the people managing shoppers' data, since it's siloed across online and offline systems, which are often managed by separate teams with separate priorities and KPIs.

"For example, at a large grocer, the loyalty team might be focused on in-store purchase behavior and loyalty-specific promotional tactics, while digital and ecommerce are focused solely on online purchases and digital marketing channels," says Waleed Ayoub, chief technology officer at Rubikloud, a Toronto-based provider of artificial intelligence software.

Having centralized data means that both teams can have a consolidated, full view of the shopper across all touchpoints — from in-store to online, or via mobile apps.

Emailing Personalized Offers

Grocers should be capitalizing on their regular emails sent to shoppers by leveraging loyalty and historical transactional data, and combining them with on-sale and recommended items based on that data that a shopper might purchase, advises Sylvain Perrier, president and CEO of Mercatus, a Toronto-based provider of platforms for grocery ecommerce. This strategy enables a grocer to slowly shift consumers toward new items and move them up in the category or laterally toward adjacent products.

Minneapolis-based Target Corp. does this, basing deals off past purchases, according to David Bishop, partner with Barrington, Ill.-based retail consultancy Brick Meets Click. Bishop notes that his household, which signed up to receive special deals, receives offers based on past purchases that his household members have made at the retailer — in their case, both online and in-store, and paid for through Target's Redcard loyalty program.

Additionally, grocers should leverage the same data on their ecommerce platforms, Perrier suggests.

"Combined with individual shoppers' preferences and recommended products that are tied to their lifestyles — vegan, kosher, heart-friendly, etc. — this speeds up discoverability for the shopper and enables a retailer to generate additional revenue," he observes.

Offering a Substitute

All too often when ordering online, shoppers don't have a real-time view of what's on shelf or in the fulfillment center, leader to orders of out-of-stock products.

Some grocers have a way to get around this, however, including Woodman's, a Janesville Wis.-based grocer that operates 16 independent grocery stores in Wisconsin and Illinois. The grocer's mobile app allows shoppers to identify whether they'll accept substitutes.

"While others will either notify the customer when this happens or confirm the substitution is acceptable with the customer is receiving the order, Woodman's gives the customer control in the app to identify exactly what items they deem as acceptable alternatives," Bishop points out.

This example isn't linked to a household's ID, but it's still a personalization tactic that, in the end, will help improve the shopper's experience.

Personalizing the At-Shelf Moment of Truth

Retailers are personalizing shelf tags and channel displays to provide product ingredient transparency, improve "findability," and communicate their commitment to helping shoppers make healthful choices for themselves and their families, says Rich Coleman, VP at Conversant, a Chicago-based provider of personalized digital marketing solutions. Grocers are doing this through feedback provided by shoppers and loyalty data.

"For example, Raley's recently revamped their entire private label lines by removing many ingredients that have been deemed harmful from their products, based on consumer feedback and the products most often purchased by their shoppers," Coleman notes. "They are also using their loyalty data to market specific health-and-wellness messages and products based on attributes through their email and direct mail campaigns."

Another example that Coleman points to is the Cincinnati-based grocery giant Kroger Co., which recently launched its electronic shelf technology in partnership with Microsoft. The innovation guides shoppers to products that fit their purchase profile — consumers can actually personalize the icon displayed on the shelf where the product is located.

"This is significant because, according to Forrester, 65 percent of surveyed consumers say their purchasing decisions are influenced by words and actions of a company's leaders, and 76 percent of surveyed consumers say they are attracted to organizations that are committed to using good-quality ingredients," he says. "Aligning marketing messages and merchandising, and ultimately the retailer's customer value proposition, to their customer's personal values and beliefs will create trust, loyalty and a differentiation from their competitors. This spells a growth in market share and maintaining sales and trips to the store."

Reminding Shoppers About Unfinished Purchases

All too often, we get distracted by a better deal or get cold feet at the last minute, causing us to abandon a site in the middle of building a cart — thus abandoning that cart. In fact, the average ecommerce store loses more than three-quarters of its sales to cart abandonment, according to New York-based data provider Statista.

If, as a grocer, you have this problem — and well as these shoppers' contact info on hand — you can reach out to them to remind them of their unfinished transactions, and even drive some additional sales in the process. Be honest and let them know whether a product in their cart is almost sold out. Or remind them that something in their cart is now — or still — on sale, but only for a limited time.

Pointing to Target again, Bishop notes something similar he experienced at the mass merchandiser, only instead of focusing on the cart, it involved an individual product he scanned via Target's mobile app to take advantage of any special deals.

"I scanned a bottle of Nature's Best Melatonin, but elected to buy another brand that was a better deal without scanning it with the app," he recounts. "Today, I received an email, asking if I still wanted the Nature's Best — and it offered a deal, e.g., 'Buy One and Get One 25 Percent Off.' Clearly, to me at least, their process didn't' analyze whether I purchased a different, but still similar type of product. However, I'm assuming that will be done in the near future."

Track Their Movements

This is arguably the most intrusive suggestion for personalizing shopper marketing, but it's also the one most in its infancy at the grocery level: eye tracking and sensor technology. As an example of this, David Rich, CEO of Chicago-based simulation software provider InContext Solutions, points to a test by Deerfield, Ill.-based drug store chain Walgreen Co.

"Walgreens recently piloted a technology at six of its stores that equip commercial refrigerators and freezers with cameras and eye-tracking technology," he notes. " As customers walk past the stores' glass beverage cases, the surface of the glass actually changes via an LED screen display to highlight a specific product in the case."

In this pilot — and for any grocer choosing to try something similar — the technology chooses which product to highlight based on a shopper's characteristics, such as age and gender. Walgreens even tested the ability to track emotional response to products, which the technology also picks up, for an even more personalized experience.