Technology as a driver and an enabler of convenience

* 5 min read
One of the greatest drivers of convenience in recent years has been technology, opening up new markets and giving brands and retailers direct access to their core customers at the most relevant moments in their lives.

Whether we’re out at work, spending time with the family or relaxing at home, technological developments give us more access to the things we want and need right now than ever before, so it’s vital that brands keep up.

From the Amazon Dash button that sits on your washing machine and reorders a specific brand of laundry detergent with one click, to the development of smart fridges that can order ingredients to make a meal with what’s left inside (Australian retailer Woolworths is working with Samsung to develop this), there’s a real focus on using artificial intelligence to make our everyday lives easier.

Dash Button

But it isn’t technological advancement that’s driving change; according to a report from EY, the biggest disruptor is actually consumer behaviour. Understanding customer need is key to leveraging tech innovation; for example, Tesco has teamed up with Spoon Guru to create an app that helps customers with specific diets or tastes to quickly find food to suit them. Integrating Spoon Guru’s database with Tesco’s online grocery platform means consumers can search for products that fit with a number of dietary needs, including lactose free, gluten free, vegetarian and vegan, with lacto-vegetarian, low sugar, organic, ovo-vegetarian, paleo, pescatarian, Kosher and Halal soon to follow.

And it’s not just the big retailers who are tapping in to a consumer need to find what they need fast. Yorkshire-based Paleo & Co recently launched a marketplace for people following a paleo diet (where you can eat anything we could hunt or gather way back in the day – things like meat, fish, nuts, leafy greens, regional veggies, and seeds), using simple aggregation technology to create a space where small producers could sell their product through one online shop.

paleo diet

“We moved back to the UK from the US having discovered the Paleo diet but struggled to find the foods we were used to,” says Paleo & Co co- founder Jonathan Simpson, former senior customer marketing director for Heineken USA.

“We were shopping in different shops for different things and it was a nightmare. We wanted to find somewhere we could buy everything we need to eat Paleo, and it didn’t exist here. So, we created Paleo & Co, sourcing the products for a niche but growing lifestyle and making them available to a wider audience, whilst helping small suppliers (who may not even have been aware that their products are Paleo) find new customers.

“By using aggregation theory and a drop ship model, the site does this in a way that could never be done in traditional retail channels”. Of course, technological advances aren’t confined to online interactions – the in-store experience is changing too.

Following in the footsteps of Amazon Go, the Co-op is trialling pay in aisle technology in one of its Manchester stores after the retailers saw a 20 per cent decline in cash payments over the last five years.

UNP Co Op 38242 Smartphone product scanner08 min

Customers can select products and scan them on their smartphone, using pre-set payment details to complete the checkout process. However, unlike Amazon Go, the Co-op has chosen to retain traditional checkouts and self-scan, to cater to all customer needs and adoption rates. This blended approach is key as although every demographic is embracing new technology, it definitely isn’t a case of one size fits all. Just because consumers want convenience, that doesn’t mean they don’t want choice too.

Both the Amazon Go and Co-op trials are invariably an opportunity to gain valuable data and insights into what matters most for their customers, using machine learning to create more tailored propositions for individual customers. Not only does this make the shopping process easier, it creates a sense of personalisation that’s becoming increasingly important to the modern consumer. Tied in to loyalty schemes, retailers are able to anticipate consumer need and create tailored offers based on their previous behaviours – for example, if a coffee shop knows Bob buys a latte at 10am every Tuesday, they can send him a tailored offer for 50 per cent off pastries via text message at 9.45am.

In the case of the Co-op trial, the payment app is linked to the customers’ loyalty account, and can instantly show them how much they’ve saved, and how many points they’ve earned. The retailer has also tied in an own-brand incentive, with shoppers receiving a five per cent reward when they buy own-brand products, with the retailer donating a further one per cent to charitable causes.

The next generation of pay in aisle technology looks set to hit UK supermarkets towards the end of 2018, in the form of intelligent shopping trolleys, or store GPS. Customers use a touch screen to load shopping lists, and the system helps them find the items in store. Customers can then check off and pay for items as they go, without having to go through the checkout.

Amazon continues to leverage its tech to grow its channel mix with – on top of traditional online shopping, Amazon Pantry, Amazon Dash and Amazon Go – it’s trialling Amazon Instant Pick-up in the US. The service allows shoppers to order items on a smartphone app, then pick them up for a nearby location within minutes. It’s a speeded-up version of click and collect – a concept that’s become embedded in UK supermarket and mail order culture – and 63 per cent of UK shoppers say they’d use it if and when it’s available here.

Speed is definitely a recurring theme when it comes to inspiring the tech that creates more convenient shopping. According to a KamCity report, 60 per cent of shoppers have given up on an online purchase because it was too much hassle to click through a website or app. Convenience means great user experience and intuitive navigation, so it’s vital to consider this when developing a service driven by convenience.