About a decade ago, major device manufacturers debuted voice-activated digital assistants as a new internet-of-things (IoT) approach for taking a deeper step into consumers’ environments. The promise was compelling: households controlled and supplied by voice control, starting with simple free commands, evolving ultimately to new business platforms for e-commerce. Companies that delivered almost everything could also be “everywhere” – fully embedded in the lives of a household.
Ten years later, the expansive vision of voice-controlled households is only partly here. You may trust your new “digital assistant” to turn on your lights or open your garage door, but will you trust her to order your groceries or schedule your doctor’s appointment? With the path to monetized services unclear, the tech giants are starting to waver. A few have recently announced divisional resets as they reconsider their business models1. It would seem there is a bigger hill to climb in becoming essential in our daily lives. Not only does our electronic “digital assistant” need to be competent, but she also needs to be trustworthy. That can be a much harder position to gain and a position that needs to be earned over a long period of time.
Who do we know that has been building that trust, often over generations and over hundreds of years? While the device manufacturers regroup on their “everywhere” strategies, traditional grocers, with their warm, friendly, satisfying brands, may actually have the upper hand when it comes to winning a place in our digital “family.”
At Deloitte, we have coined this coming time of digital expertise enhancing our lives and our capabilities as the “age of with.” In the best cases, we are working “with” technology, such as generative AI, to enhance human capabilities and human experiences, not replace them.
Against this backdrop, grocers are rapidly transforming. They’ve already become omnichannel in an impressively compressed time frame. Today, almost all grocers have online sales (91%) and more than half (55%) provide home delivery of online orders2. Digital gadgets opened the latest chapter of a fully connected household, but in many ways, the grocery channel could be best positioned as its newest member. Consider the following:
- Community goodwill. Grocers accumulated deep relationship value through their long-standing service to communities, local ownership and staffing. In a world of pervasive connective technology infrastructure, grocers can extend this relationship capital to become more than pillars of the community but also members of the household.
- Physical stores in real life. Despite the growth of delivery, the in-person and sensory character of the store is the customer experience. Stores are where grocers connect with their customers – a fact that some digital-first competitors are steadily realizing. Grocery is multimodal, and traditional grocers may have a significant head start with extensive store footprints, staffing and expertise.
- More intimacy creates deeper knowledge. Grocers’ diversified customer touchpoints can create an advantage in understanding customer needs, trends and preferences. In a time where information access can create a competitive advantage, grocers are in an enviable position to inform the design and delivery of new kinds of services.
- Industry cooperation and stewardship. Lastly, the grocery industry’s long-standing reputation for service and ethics helps improve its posture as a good steward of customer information and digital conduct. Grocers will certainly play a larger role in e-commerce in the future. Collectively, the grocery industry’s voice can influence the policy and standards protecting the interests of both consumers and businesses.
Activating this vision will likely require more proactive IoT strategies for grocers. But the essential elements are in place for grocers to be “everywhere” – to become trusted advisors and helpers not only in the physical store, but also in consumers’ homes, around their families, and even on or in their own bodies through wearable and digestible technology. The potential service and experience scenarios in such a situation are compelling. For example:
- Anticipating and participating in life events and changes to serve more needs and enhance more moments.
- The ability to curate seamless experiences linking the digital and in-store worlds, aligned to content and context, by offering precise customization and dynamic pricing, promotions and assortment
- Engaging with more meaning and value beyond the act of shopping; for example, providing food inspiration and meal planning either in the kitchen or on the go.
- Enhancing the health-giving potential of “food as medicine” by nudging us toward more healthy habits.
- Helping us to live better by taking away some of the drudgery of running a household and caring for a family, freeing us up to do more of what makes us happy.
These are just some examples of the enhanced value and experiences that could be made possible by grocers that are fully present in the lives of their customers, from the store to the household.
Whereas smart speakers opened a new chapter in a vision of interconnected homes and services, grocers have the customer relationship and brand capital important for helping write the next one. Tomorrow’s grocer can be “everywhere”: truly embedded and enhancing a customer’s life, where I need you and when I need you.
Grocers that are in effect “everywhere” illustrate an important characteristic of the grocer of tomorrow – the omniscient grocer. In our next blog post, we’ll discuss the next attribute characteristic of this new kind of grocer – the ability to harness information and knowledge to be fully “aware.”
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