The COVID-19 pandemic is quickly changing the face of retail food. Independent and big brand food stores, restaurants and the quick service restaurants (QSR) are all swiftly adapting to the crisis. The speed of the outbreak has forced them to swiftly rethink their business and services to stay connected, safe, and afloat in these turbulent waters.
While supermarkets and independent food retailers remain open, many freshly prepared foods and salad bars have been closed down. Store hours have been restricted and delivery services are being implemented and upgraded to meet changing demand. Restaurants have had to quickly pivot to solely take-a-away and delivery-only operations, while QSR is realizing an uptick in competition as home-delivery is now the preferred option.
There are two areas where company leaders can help their customers and maintain business during the COVID-19 crisis. The first two be open and transparent with customers, partners, and suppliers. Here is a list of actions you can institute to stay connected to shifting consumer groups.
- Send out communications to reassure customers and partners that best-practices are being taken to ensure their safety and wellbeing.
- Build dedicated websites about COVID-19 with facts and information about how your company is dealing with it and best-practices your customers should take to stay safe.
- Build out your online order and delivery roadmap.
As you are building out your digital presence, you should consider how to provide a superior online shopping experience for customers. Remember, you are now competing for business online and relying less on the traditional bricks and mortar shopping experience to build loyalty and drive revenues.
Artificial Intelligence, no longer a futuristic concept, is helping food retailers across the spectrum with meeting these demands. From creating pizza ovens capable of making 300 – 12-inch pizzas in an hour to helping consumers with intuitive, engaging online shopping experiences, AI is connecting business and consumers in ways unimaginable just a few short years ago. Big brand restaurant chains are quickly implementing AI and Machine Learning that optimize the consumer experience to create relevant engaging food ordering and delivery options. We know consumers are looking for solutions that offer four essential elements of online shopping:
- You have to provide a fast, engaging, 1:1 in-the-moment experience. If you are out of a product, tell them, and be able to offer an appealing, alternative product instantly. If you can let them know when the product they seek will be available again, so much the better.
- Make sure you are offering products and services that contextually relate to the consumer’s needs. Who are they, where are they, and when are they shopping must be factored in instantly. Let’s say a consumer resides in Miami, FL is price-conscious, and it’s March. A retailer would offer warm-weather clothing displayed from low-price to high. But if the consumer travels to Denver, CO, in that same month and browses the site, the retailer should offer the consumer cold-weather gear instead that is readily available in inventory so it can be shipped right away.
- It’s important that you follow consumers across all channels and provide the most updated information so you can stay engaged and relevant. Multiple devices are still in use even though we’re staying home. People may start browsing for an item using their laptops during the day and move to a tablet and/or mobile phone in the evening to finish their purchase. It’s our job to follow them from device to device to ensure a seamless shopping experience.
- Lastly, you have to scale. Internet traffic is growing and spiking in ways that are different than just a month ago. Enterprise brands selling online have to provide the same online shopping experience at peak times as they do during slow traffic. The consumer doesn’t know when or care when internet traffic spikes; they only care if the brand is providing a timely and relevant experience. If you can’t scale you leave consumers frustrated and looking at another brand.
Food retail brands that turn to AI to help secure business in these uncertain times will find solutions that leverage these essential elements most helpful. They connect and engage with consumers to drive short term revenue while building long term brand loyalty when caution and safety are paramount.
This article was first published in Today’s Grocer in May 2020 issue, volume 61/No.7, p. 9.