- The need for social distancing is accelerating the trend toward more convenient, digitally enabled, "frictionless" shopping.
- Innovators are turning to RFID for better customer experiences, vastly improved inventory management, and more.
- Dirty Lemon, Sodexo, and Esselunga are among the companies defining friction-free convenience.
For some time, convenience has been the prevailing trend in the grocery industry. Writing in Forbes in February, analyst Natalie Berg summed it up nicely: "In retailing today, you have to save time or enhance it."
That's even more true now that the industry is contending with another c‑word: COVID-19. Before the outbreak, Internet-conditioned consumers wanted shopping to be "frictionless"— faster, easier, and light on unnecessary interaction. Now, faced with the need to socially distance, they want those things even more—and right now, please.
The pre-pandemic move towards convenience was driven, logically enough, by convenience stores, which have cannily evolved to become "food forward," matching larger grocers' offerings of fresh, high-quality items, but still selling them in smaller neighborhood spaces where you can more easily grab what you need and go.
Consumers are voting for this approach with their wallets: In-store sales at U.S. convenience stores increased by nearly 9% in 2018; in China, they jumped 19%. More than a third of brick-and-mortar retail space is now composed of convenience stores, and spending in the segment worldwide is expected to exceed $48 billion by 2024.
Seeing this writing on the wall, grocers in general have been investing in technology that makes shopping easier. But convenience stores remain on the leading edge. AmazonGo has become emblematic of the effort, but other brands are innovating as well. 7-Eleven has launched a contactless delivery service and is piloting a scan and go concept.