LAS VEGAS — Leveraging the most up-to-date technologies today will secure an independent’s customer base in the future, a technology executive told a general session Monday at the 30th annual National Grocers Association here.
“The small, agile grocers who operate a small number of stores and who train their people properly can leverage existing technologies that shoppers are using, and whatever you leverage today will help you tomorrow,” Tom Furphy, chief executive officer and managing director of Consumer Equity Partners, Seattle, said.
“Just as Wakefern  put together 48 individual members to form a $13 billion business, smaller grocers must find a way to unite so you can spend the same resources [learning about technology] as larger companies — perhaps finding a way to cooperate through NGA.”
Speaking as part of the same panel discussion, Rich Niemann, president and CEO of Niemann Foods , Quincy, Ill., said share groups “are the best way to cut down on the learning curve,” noting that NGA is in the process of expanding its share group offerings.
Natan Tabak, senior vice president, technology and e-commerce for Wakefern Food Corp. , Keasbey, N.J., said smartphones offer a huge opportunity for retailers. “We’re just a click away from revolutionizing the industry, but some retailers are in danger of losing the customer of tomorrow if they don’t use technology today to encourage younger consumers to shop with them now.”
Grant LaMontage, senior vice president and chief customer officer for Clorox Co., said independents have the advantage of the human touch. “As retailers, you know your customers and how they behave, and he who has the best information will win.
“But running a supermarket is more than a transactional business — it’s about experience. You can offer so much to consumers that online competitors cannot because you understand your customers.
”You’re in the experience business. Define the experience you want to deliver to the consumer, and then deliver it.
Read more: Wakefern Reinventing Center Store Aisles 
“Independents must lead a revolution to combat the encroachment of online shopping. You’re in the experience business — you’re in a particularly unique position with fresh, and you’ve got to make sure you remain competitive in center store on your own terms because most consumers still want to buy their groceries in your stores.”
According to Tabak, a company like Amazon can grow its grocery business by expanding the number of distribution centers, “but what we have is stores that can offer consumer experiences, which that Amazon cannot. Amazon can expand its offering of fresh products, but retailers can focus on ‘local’ to differentiate themselves from online companies.”
Niemann said he agreed. “Local is one more piece that helps you build your brand, and independents can do local better than the larger players.”
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