Forgive the intrusion: digital personalization means a unique deal for every shopper

When industries migrate online, something predictable happens: They try to digitally replicate the same customer experience that made their analog business successful. When magazines and newspapers went online more than two decades ago, their websites simply brought new printed articles. As music buying and movie rentals went digital, companies forced their customers to browse extensive catalogs and then have their selections delivered to their homes.

These are necessary steps, often limited by limitations in technology and operations. Over time, however, industries have created new digital-specific experiences that take advantage of the channel’s ever-evolving technology while also addressing the unique ways people can interact with it. Publishing has embraced digital mediums like podcasting and visual storytelling, and digital-only titles—er, like Grocery Dive—have proliferated. Netflix and Spotify created personalized, digital-first experiences that reshaped the way people interact with media.

Grocery shopping is still in the earliest phase of the digital evolution. I might choose my groceries from a laptop or iPhone screen, but the experience is still based on the idea that I’m browsing through thousands of items organized by store category and then adding each one individually to my virtual shopping cart.

Grocers have prided themselves on offering a wide variety for years. But that approach is coming under close scrutiny these days, as consumers seek convenient shortcuts and supply chain constraints show retailers that offering eight different types of pasta sauces instead of 18 isn’t the end of the world. In online groceries, the abundance is balanced This is less beneficial, as shoppers who can only page through products simply click the “New Order” button or laboriously shop through the search bar.

Large assortment can be beneficial for grocers selling online, but they need to limit assortment – ​​or personalize it, to use the industry buzzword – for every buyer. During a presentation by online grocery pioneer Ocado last week, CEO Tim Steiner pointed out that while the company offers around 50,000 products, shoppers are only actively purchasing between 1,000 and 2,000 of them.

“Very few customers will ever buy more than that number of different items,” he said. “The challenge is that those 1 to 2,000 items are different for each customer.”

Courtesy of Giant Food

Businesses of all sizes are taking slow, clumsy steps to tailor their assortments to shoppers. When I shop online at my local grocer, the platform greets me by my name, displays a scroll bar of items I’ve ordered in the past, and shares some recommendations based on my past purchases. Since I bought a clam shell of lettuce leaves last week, I certainly want one giant Clamshell of Greens this week.

I expect recommendations will improve as grocers integrate better artificial intelligence and machine learning systems into their platforms. But businesses also need to think more broadly about the unique opportunities that digital offers and how they can transform the relationship with their buyers.

There is a comment that Abhi Ramesh, founder and CEO of online grocer Misfits Market, recently made to my colleague Sam Silverstein:

“Based on what I know about you, based on what I know you will buy [and] What you don’t buy, I can build a special grocery store for each customer,” he said. “This power exists in the digital universe in a way that can never exist in person.”

A unique grocery store for each customer. To me, this is the Netflix or Spotify opportunity for retailers – the way to really unlock the potential of online shopping. This means that companies not only offer shoppers the most relevant products, but also useful services, meal planning tools and other contextual associations that also drive loyalty and discovery. Consumers really need help figuring out their weekly meal plan and buying healthier foods. Grocery retailers can create digital storefronts for shoppers around those needs, hiring chefs, nutritionists and other staff that save shoppers time and mental workload.

“We’re like Netflix plus Whole Foods”

Alex Weinstein, Chief Digital Officer at online grocery retailer Hungyroot, agrees that although nearly every retailer in the country has embraced digital shopping, the core grocery shopping experience hasn’t evolved significantly over the years. “I still have to do the meal planning myself and I still have to search the aisles to find those items, whether they’re virtual or physical aisles,” he said.

Retailers have been offering custom coupons and promotions to shoppers for years, and they are getting better and better at recommending products. But true personalization, he said, means not only building a digital store for shoppers, but also taking the mental burden of shopping and meal planning off people’s plates.

Weinstein said Hungryroot’s model is comparable to Netflix plus Whole Foods. Instead of offering customers product pages to shop for, the company flips the script and presents them with products like ready meals, cookware and groceries for a week, along with a meal plan based on an intake survey that includes their preferences, goals, family size and dietary restrictions. The survey consists of about 10 targeted questions such as “Who do you feed?”. and “What kind of meat do you like?” It finds out what combination of goals – like price, health, convenience, etc. – motivates users to shop. Users can substitute any meal or product in their list.

The idea of ​​taking the shopping out of the hands of the shopper may sound a little far-fetched to some retailers. But Weinstein, who has previously worked in senior positions at Grubhub, eBay and Microsoft, said Hungryroot is responding to one of the key needs it finds when surveying people.

“We keep hearing from consumers that it’s just hard to plan their meals for the week and they wish there was an easy way to have someone fill their shopping cart for them,” he said.

Retrieved from hungryroot.

Hungryroot’s model requires a leap of faith from the people using it. And it appears to be mostly aimed at specialty consumers, who tend to be more adventurous when it comes to grocery shopping. However, Weinstein said artificial intelligence and machine learning technology are getting good enough these days to push people meal plans, snacks, and drinks into the carts they will accept. He wouldn’t say what percentage of Hungryroot’s recommendations people accept or reject, but the company’s goal is for users to approve the majority of their custom lists and make at most a few replacements. Technology keeps getting better as it learns more about people’s preferences and shopping habits. “We’re maybe 20% or 30% on track” to personalize shopping the way Weinstein said he wants it to be.

He noted that user personalization is an ongoing process for Hungryroot. In addition to collecting data, people are asked a few targeted questions about their most recent delivery each week. They want to know if a dish was too spicy or if they liked a particular salad very much or it was just mediocre. The feedback helps improve the recommendation engines, Weinstein said. The company employs chefs who prepare dishes and also help answer the questions that users ask.

Hungryroot is careful not to bombard its users with questions, Weinstein noted. Still, they’re generally okay with the company asking about their experiences each week, as the company openly says that this input will help them make better recommendations.

“You can learn a lot from implicit consumer behavior. However, if you actually ask him, you stand a chance of doing a much better job, and you also expect the consumer to be his curator,” he told Weinstein.

Open up “experience moments”.

Should every grocer take a personal approach to cooking like Hungryroot? Of course not. I’m highlighting the company’s model primarily because it’s an example of what’s possible in the digital grocery store thanks to creative thinking combined with advances in AI, software, and other technologies.

What other options are there? For inspiration, businesses should turn to online-only grocers and digital grocery companies whose expertise in this channel has put them at the forefront of experiential innovation. These companies think a lot about how to inspire shoppers to buy more than the same products week in and week out.

Permission granted by Mercatus

Farmstead, which delivers a full range of groceries in a handful of cities, lets shoppers automate the delivery of staples like milk and bread and uses artificial intelligence to show customers only the items they’re likely to want to buy. Anycart, which partners with grocery chains like Safeway and Whole Foods to deliver groceries, organizes its online shopping platform by food occasions, shopper destinations and trends like air fryer-friendly products. Instead of adding items individually, users can click on a dish they want to prepare and the ingredients will automatically load into their shopping cart.

Grocery Shopii, a tech company that integrates with grocer platforms, allows shoppers to create profiles and recommend products organized by recipes and meal plans, said co-founder Katie Hotze. It is currently being offered through e-commerce company Freshop’s platform and is live for customers at Reasor’s, a chain with 17 Oklahoma stores.

“I think personalization is absolutely key to opening up those experiential moments for shoppers who’ve been making tacos, pizza, and pasta every night for the last 20 months,” Hotze told me recently.

Grocery retailers are constantly talking about increasing convenience for their customers. When it comes to online shopping, I think they understand that shoppers are drawn to the channel to save time and physical effort. But they’re only just beginning to scratch the surface of how it can inspire them, solve problems, and reduce their mental workload.

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