The empowered consumer is calling for dramatic changes in the food retail environment by demanding, in both subtle and overt ways, increasingly more personalized service. As the food retail industry wades into this changing tide, it can become overwhelming because … well, there are just so many empowered consumers out there and the idea of customization according to each of their wishes, wants and expectations feels implausible. Where does it stop? Do we try to design our stores, the products we carry, the service we offer according to the particular whims of each shopper? Some argue we must; others argue it is impossible and default to continued marketing to the generic middle.
So, on one end of the spectrum food retailers could drive themselves crazy with extreme customization, striving to appease every wish of each shopper entering their stores. On the other end, food retailers could ignore the demand for customization, behave as if their customers are all identical and slowly watch as those shoppers go elsewhere — where they are treated like the individuals they believe themselves to be.
Between the extremes of doing everything and doing nothing about customized service, there is the middle path of doing something. By being intimately aware of the demographics of their customer base, food retailers can identify the groups to which their shoppers predominantly belong. Then, they can take steps toward customizing the shopping experience by drawing on the preferences, desires and tastes of the various communities with which the customer associates.
The psychological truth about all of us is that we operate in the tension between wanting to be an individual, but remain intimately connected to a community. We don’t want to be so singular as to be alone, but we don’t want to be treated just like everyone else either. If a food retailer can become sufficiently knowledgeable of the communities that comprise their shoppers and create a shopping experience contoured to each group’s tastes, they will have made tremendous strides toward offering customized service.
Our U.S. Grocery Shopper Trends report outlines these opportunities consistent with a cultural shift to more customized food options tailored to spontaneity, while maintaining familiar food formats and healthful-via-real perceptions. In an industry with a proud tradition of strong customer service, food retailers will identify the technologies necessary to help them best know their customer communities and find that successful customized path forward.
In the meantime, we continue to wrestle with the Star Trek quandary, “Do the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one, or do sometimes the needs of the one outweigh the needs of the many?”