By: Laurie Gethin, Director, Education, Food Marketing Institute

20151208-FMI-640r-WEBNot a day goes by that I don’t find myself reading about grocery stores rolling out new technologies to engage shoppers. If you happen to Google “technology in grocery stores,” I guarantee you’ll find at least five pages of relevant, interesting articles. I often wonder if we’re closer to living like The Jetsons than ever before. 

The transforming grocery landscape, led by unprecedented advancements in technology, has left food retailers of all shapes and sizes addressing new challenges. Earlier this year, FMI identified five Emerging Issues that have the greatest potential to affect the food industry in the next three to five years. One of the issues identified is how artificial intelligence (AI)/technology will alter the food industry and the role of humans throughout its processes. 

As my colleague Mark Baum, FMI’s chief collaboration officer, has stated, “It’s easier to embrace a challenge if you see it coming, have it named (defined) and have some understanding of what its implications are.” That’s why at the 2018 Energy and Store Development Conference, we’ve designed sessions that dive deep into intricate issues that are timely, challenging and time-consuming. The session “Artificial Intelligence: The New Competitive Strategy”, to be presented by Stephen Webster, Senior Vice President, Consumer Goods, r4 Technologies, will focus on how this technology will reconstruct consumers’ shopping experiences and store operations. 

Store Operations

For store development and energy management professionals in food retail, investing in automation increases operational efficiency and can maximize established in-store capabilities. 

“Today, store personnel are stretched thin and heavily burdened with new administrative and compliance tasks, expanding responsibilities and a never-ending learn/do loop,” explained Stephen Webster. “AI can be utilized to effectively offload “machine” type tasks, allowing store staff to focus on creating in-store value for customers and associates.” 

Webster added, “AI used in camera monitoring can be used for on-shelf product availability measurement and customer engagement. Utilizing IOT (Internet of Things) technology, store associates can receive alerts when in-cooler product availability is at critical levels and requires restocking.”

Customer Experience

As more power and influence shifts to the customer, their expectations continue to grow relative to the in-store experience. Webster notes that effectively utilizing data and insights to create the best possible experience for customers will be critical to success. It is no longer just about the in-store shopping trip, but about the experience that retail customers have at every touch point of the shopping experience (in-store, website, mobile app, click & collect, chatbots, home delivery, in-store engagement/experience, etc.).

“AI can power this customer experience, which is critical to growth and profitability,” Webster emphasized. “I look forward to discussing this topic in more detail at the conference.”

As the food retail industry continues to explore bringing emerging technologies like AI into their business models, Webster says to remember these three things: 

“Find a use case so that you begin the learning journey. Use the data you have, you have plenty; and focus on the customer and engage them in your efforts.” 

To learn more about how AI will revolutionize in-store operations and consumer engagement, register for the 2018 Energy and Store Development Conference here.