The trend toward personalization was in high gear long before the coronavirus hit.

Today’s consumers want the stores and brands they patronize to treat them like individuals, with loyalty programs, shopping suggestions tailored to their specific needs and wants and a host of other services.

COVID took that existing trend and turbocharged it. Now consumers are asking the stores where they shop to help keep them safe — the ultimate act of personalization.

Fortunately, a combination of the old-fashioned and the high-tech is helping grocery stores to deliver personalization to shoppers in ways that keeping them coming back.

Amazon and other online retailers know a lot about their customers’ shopping patterns, likes and dislikes — even their political affiliations. Brick and mortar retailers, if they are to survive, must learn to do the same, said Mark Turner, senior sales representative for Kent, Wash.-based American Retail Supply.

“I think that in the post-COVID19 brick and mortar retail world, the need for personalization, the need for retailers to know their customers, is going to increase exponentially,” Turner said. “Customers are learning to shop online and are more comfortable shopping online. Stores must do all they can to provide an exceptional experience for the customer.”

Knowing the customer and giving them a personalized experience, he added, will go a long way to meeting and even exceeding this requirement for retail success.  

Personalization — knowing your customer, their buying needs and likes/dislikes — is important for any business, Turner said. But it’s absolutely essential in the hyper-competitive grocery business.

“It’s an extra challenge for brick and mortar retailers who do not inherently know the purchasing patterns of their customers,” he said. “ Customer loyalty programs, are essential but a poorly designed and promoted program can do more harm than good.”

Starbucks, he said, is a good example of a very successful program.

“I am amazed at the percent of customers who scan their phones when getting coffee.”

With the rapid rise in demand for grocery eCommerce services, it’s imperative that grocers provide a differentiated experience to build lasting shopper loyalty, said Sylvain Perrier, president and CEO of Toronto-based Mercatus.

84% of consumers say being treated like a person, not a number, is very important to winning their business.

(Source: Salesforce)

Mercatus helps grocers build eCommerce experiences with the goal of enabling shoppers to discover new products and drive revenue through one-to-one recommendations that consider each individual’s unique preferences and affinities, Perrier said. Through the Mercatus Integrated Commerce Platform, for instance, grocers can offer the right deals, at the right discounts, to the right customers by dynamically presenting flyers on a shopper-by-shopper basis.

“With just one click, shoppers are able to add deals from the flyer to their basket,” Perrier said. “Additionally, Mercatus assists grocers in offering shoppers a ‘smarter’ way to find products based on their needs and preferences. For example, grocers can present search results that shoppers will naturally have an affinity towards so the most relevant items to them appear first.”

Machines helping people

 Running on Mercatus’ Integrated Commerce Platform or as a standalone program is the company’s AisleOne, a system of machine learning algorithms with inputs from a wealth of data touch points, from transaction log to integration services.

With AisleOne, which launched in September, Perrier said shoppers can enjoy the benefits of a fully personalized shopping experience, from tailored email flyers to personalized recommendations at checkout. The software allows grocery retailers to take advantage of proprietary machine learning algorithms to automatically:

  • Generate personalized catalogs and search results tailored to each individual shopper;
  • Serve personalized product recommendations, based on personal preferences, dietary needs, past purchases and current basket.
  • Tap into and analyze a deep well of shopper data from online and in-store inputs;
  • Enhance the online shopping experience for a faster, more enjoyable checkout process;
  • Gain full transparency into and control over their customers’ data and product recommendations.

To enhance the personalization experience, Mercatus helps grocers optimize their websites and mobile apps with personalized banner images that attract and engage shoppers; recommended items with guaranteed relevance to the individual shopper; suggested recipes and other relevant content based on customer preferences; and customized deals and coupons that increase share of wallet by recapturing lost categories.

AisleOne can be a perfect fit for retailers looking to personalize their fresh perimeter programs, Perrier said.

“Traditionally, shoppers have reported preference for buying fresh groceries in-store rather than online,” he said. “With AisleOne, grocers have the opportunity to increase fresh product purchases by presenting deals and products that are perfectly matched to a shopper’s basket and preferences.”

Whether it’s a coupon for a shopper’s favorite type of apple, or the best cheese to pair with a bottle of wine in their cart, AisleOne on the Mercatus platform will automatically point shoppers to products they’ll love, Perrier said. And grocers looking to increase sales of prepared products also can use the platform to boost sales.

For special events like Valentine’s Day, for instance, grocers can increase prepared product sales with personalized flyers promoting floral bouquets or a favorite box of chocolates. Grocers can help shoppers buying last-minute by recommending these products at check-out. 

 “While grocers using AisleOne benefit from increasing basket size, they also benefit from building a relationship with their shoppers,” Perrier said. “As the algorithms continue to refine profiles of each individual shopper, shoppers are served with increasingly tailored experiences with every shop, keeping them coming back.”

Brookshire Grocery Co. and Weis Markets are two of the most recent grocery retailers to partner with Mercatus on personalization.

74% of consumers expect companies to understand their needs and expectations.

Source: Salesforce

According to Mercatus, AisleOne allows Brookshire and Weis to generate automatic personalized catalogs and search results tailored to each individual shopper; utilize a deep well of shopper data from online and in-store inputs; serve personalized product suggestions based on shoppers’ basket, past purchase and adjacent profile data; enhance the overall shopping experience for a faster, more enjoyable checkout process; and gain full transparency into and control over their customers’ data and product recommendations.

“A year ago, we launched online ordering with curbside pickup service to 100 stores across Brookshire’s, Super 1 Foods and FRESH by Brookshire’s banners,” said John D’Anna, chief strategy officer for Brookshire. “Now, we’re excited to expand our partnership with Mercatus by adding AisleOne personalization to our online shopping capabilities and creating a more personalized, convenient and enjoyable customer experience.”

Ron Bonacci, Weis Markets’ vice president of marketing and advertising, said AisleOne is helping Weis understand both online and offline shopping behavior to create engaging experiences for its customers.

“We’ve already made significant progress with our company’s digital grocery shopping program since partnering with Mercatus and look to do even more in 2020,” Bonacci said. “AisleOne represents the next phase of our program. It will help us deepen our relationships with customers and personalize values and incentives.”

Electronic shelf labels: finding products fast

American Retail Supply helps its retail customers boost their personalization profiles in two ways, Turner said: electronic shelf labels (ESLs) and people counting.

European retailers have been using ESLs for years, Turner said. But they’re a relatively new addition to our product line and are slowly being adapted in the US for both grocery and non-grocery retailers. 

There are many ways to use ESLs, Turner said. One of the most relevant features is locating items in the store.

“The label can be programmed to alert the customer, or personal shopper, to flash when they are getting near an item that they put on a shopping list,” he said.

 With COVID, personal shoppers, curbside pickup and customers wanting to limit time in the store are issues retailers must deal with, and ESLs can help.  Some American Retail Supply labels have built in Bluetooth technology, where, for example, the label can send a message to the customer’s cell phone about a special price for club members.  

“With our PE line, the label is NFC-compatible,” Turner said. “This opens up many options, including allowing the customer to see the ‘club’ price on their cell phone.”

A less invasive option, with the same end goal, would allow the customer to download a coupon while in front of the label. These labels can also deliver real time star ratings, nutritional information, instructions, recipes and much more, Turner said. 

For example, they can have the prices update throughout the day so customers “think or know” they are getting the best deal or have competitors’ prices.

“It’s truly all up to the store how these are used,” Turner said. “Retailers are finding more and more uses for these labels.”

People counting – more important than ever

Brand new to American Retail Supply is the company’s people counting technology, which, given the pandemic, Turner calls “very timely.”

The product, SmartOccupancy, comes from loss prevention specialists CheckPoint. It was originally designed to show how many people are in a store for staffing and other management purposes.

“The number of people in the store can also be displayed for the customer to see, good in these COVID times,” Turner said. “It is of the utmost importance that retailers gain and keep their customers’ trust, and people counting will go a long way to this end.”

As a bonus, management, and their customers for that matter, can see how many people are in a department within the store.

In addition to its electronic shelf label and people counting products, American Retail Supply has a new, affordable product called “Review-It.” It allows customers to give a “star rating” while they are still in the store.

“The other day I was shopping for some plants, and the store was laid out very badly for social distancing,” Turner said. “I sure would have liked to let them know how I felt while still in the store.”

Publix gets personal

This spring, Lakeland, Fla.-based grocery chain Publix launched its first personalized membership program, Club Publix.

The free program bundles together a number of digital features, including early notifications of BOGOs and other sales, the ability to pay with a simple scan of the Publix app, and the option to receive e-receipts. Club Publix adds personalization to these digital features with exclusive member perks and personalized content.

“We’re always looking for ways to create a more convenient and rewarding shopping experience for our customers that delivers more of what matters to them,” said Mark Irby, Publix’s vice president. “Customers who join the free program will enjoy a more seamless shopping experience, one that’s more personalized to their individual needs and preferences.”

Current account holders will automatically be enrolled in the program and can immediately take advantage of these benefits, which also include:

Save on your favorites:

  • Get notified first for BOGOs and other sales
  • Receive relevant perks exclusive to members
  • Get coupons you’ll use based on items you’ll buy

Shop easier:

  • Pay with a simple scan of the Publix app
  • Reorder your favorites with a few taps of the phone
  • Keep track of what you buy with e-receipts
  • Create and save shopping lists on-the-go

Stay in the know:

  • Never miss a sale again with weekly ad sneak peeks
  • Find out about new product launches before anyone
  • Get personalized product pairings, tips and more matched to your taste

Putting grocers in charge of personalization  

Mercatus helps put grocers back in charge of their eCommerce experience, ensuring that the entire shopper journey takes place under the grocer’s banner, rather than a disjointed, outsourced experience across third-party marketplaces. With our partners and white label solutions, Mercatus is able to quickly and efficiently create an authentic and personalized online shopping experience, one that replicates uniqueness of the in-store experience to the digital shopper — and one which the grocer can control.

 Mercatus’ unique personalization tools empower grocers with a scalable, AI-powered solution that can automate the analysis of transactional inputs necessary to create a truly personalized experience tailored to the individual shopper across desktop and mobile channels. AisleOne is proven to increase sales and garner shopper loyalty. With AisleOne,

  • Grocers can achieve an increase of up to $13 per basket, per week – that’s up to $700 more per year per engaged customer.
  • Shoppers who open a 1-to-1 weekly product offer email from the grocer are 40% more likely to go shopping in store or online, and spend up to $7 more per basket.
  • Shoppers who open and click on curated promotional offers on the grocer’s site and app are 90% more likely to go shopping in store or online, and spend up to $20 more per basket.