What do Grocers do Next?

You can’t turn around these days without seeing some dire write up in the trades about how grocery is under attack.  More disconcerting is how frequently the predictions of doom and gloom are spilling into the mainstream media and certainly being factored into public perception as evidenced by recent share price declines in 2018 of major and minor players.

I grew up in the business and whether I worked directly for a supermarket or had the pleasure of serving them in an advisory mode, over the past thirty years I have been deeply engaged with this industry.  That may not make me an expert, but I think I’ve learned a few things.  So, I would posit two positions at this new nexus of the industry’s fortunes:

1. Grocers are resilient. They may have been slower to acknowledge alternative competitive threats over the years, they may not be sterling visionaries, but they have adapted and survived.  And they learn from their mistakes.  Today most are quicker to address the news of the day and more are actively planning for fighting for their futures.


2. Ultimately, people want supermarkets. Clearly the industry over stored the nation.  This is easily evidenced by the lack of crises when significant large players just evaporate without a trace.  But there will never be a day when the overall population won’t care if there isn’t a store to go to.


So as the ever changing and uncertain future comes into focus, what do I believe that grocers need to do to thrive?  Three things come immediately to mind:

Raise your game regarding speed of checkout – if you are competing with the concept of convenience, you can’t do anything that makes you look inconvenient. This means enhancing how quickly traditional checkout performs and expanding checkout alternatives that meet the customers’ expanding affinities.


Get passionate on being in stock – if they come to your store, you have to have what they want, but most critically what they expect. I am not a merchant, so I will avoid any assortment discussions, but once a company decides what they will carry, it has to be there when it counts. This transcends mere item availability, it also has to be the right quality and it has to be displayed appropriately.


“Deliver” what others cannot – this goes beyond products but those are still worth considering; I don’t believe anyone will be delivering gas, no one is going to come to a person’s house to give them a free flu shot ,etc.  But more importantly only the people in the store can be the provider of product information, instructions on product preparation, inspiration for new items, etc.  I think the best retailers regardless of channel are focusing hard on how their people answer the question of “why would I buy this?” best.  And the ones that thrive in my opinion will be those who concentrate and deliver on making sure their customers leave saying “I am glad I came here.”