At the 2020 National Grocers Association show in San Diego, independent retailers from across the country had the chance to meet, greet, educate, and share their experiences in the evolving grocery retail environment. And one thing on many grocers minds?  

Technology. 

While the grocery industry as a whole has been slow to adopt technology, giants like Amazon and Walmart, as well the ubiquitous presence of ecommerce and omnichannel, are pushing the industry forward. Independent grocers recognize the need to evolve and adapt their business strategies in order to compete and survive, but they often don’t have the tools necessary to do so. They understand that there is an urgency to have technology in place, otherwise their relevancy will fade—fast.  

Reducing the fear of AI adoption

Integrating technology into business is challenging at best, and with that challenge often comes a lot of fear—fear that the technology won’t work. Fear that it will destroy their business. Fear of change. Despite this, there is a desire to bring on new technology. That said, a common refrain heard at NGA over the three-day show was “Yes, but how?” Independent retailers are willing to support new technology that can help them compete in the industry, they simply don’t understand how they would integrate the technology into their business, how they would launch it in their strategy, and how they would make it successful. There will always be some level of fear in adopting new technology into a business, but with the right value proposition and a solid change management strategy in place, the fear of adoption is dramatically reduced.  

Education is everything

AI was the main technology that independent retailers were buzzing about at this year’s NGA show, and the conversations tended to go down one of two paths: 1. AI marketing technology, or 2. Price optimization. 

For the former, AI is about customization, personalization, and helping retailers meet their customers where they are. For the latter, AI is about cutting through the hypereducing the fear, and educating grocers on how they can bring it into their organizationsAnd that’s critical for independent grocers to understand, because AI isn’t coming, it’s here. There is a need to get educated on AI’s capabilities, as well as preparing for it, and implementing it.  

There is also a need to educate independent grocers around the accessibility of AI—it’s not a technology that is relegated to larger retailers or retailers with big budgets and sharp strategic plans. “I can’t afford to hire data scientists” was another common refrain, and disavowing the notion that data scientists are needed for true AI is another hurdle in technology adoption. There is still a deep need to dispel the notion that true AI is simply predictive analytics—that’s not the reality, and for the independent grocery industry, more education is needed to ensure an understanding that AI not only can change the way they’re doing business for the better, but it will change it for the better.  

How independent retailers do business may not be so different than what national retailers are doing these days, but the NGA show is a prime opportunity to see how technology can align with their business and help them stay competitive. When they have the right information on the right product for their needs, their degree of success will ultimately improve.  

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