amazon go evaluation

“It Feels Like Stealing!”: A First-Hand Experience at Amazon Go

As someone who never considered herself a “tech nerd” before joining Ketner Group, I would not have predicted that I’d be be jumping at the chance to try out new store technology. But after nearly two years of talking about all things e-commerce, personalization, omnichannel retail, etc. and hearing our clients describe their impressive innovations – I have developed quite an interest in the technology that powers our daily lives.

And what e-commerce platform is arguably the most pervasive to our day-to-day? None other than Amazon. With its user-friendly interface and convenient delivery options, we all rely on Amazon at least once in a while. But ever since the digital-first retailer entered the brick-and-mortar space and started changing the way we shop I’ve been interested in checking it out.

I’m fortunate enough to work in Ketner Group’s NYC office, so I was just a short subway ride away from the Amazon Go store on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. But for those of you that were curious about how the Just-Walk-Out technology works, yet don’t have such easy access to the new-fangled store, I’ll walk you through my experience.

Setting the shopper expectations

After initially looking up the store to plan my excursion, I was surprised by the hours. Amazon Go stores in New York City all close by early evening and remain closed all weekend. As a nine-to-fiver, this confused me – the times seemed to limit the number of people who could try out this cool, new buying experience. However, after reading more, it all made sense.

The Amazon Go store was never intended to replace a trip to the grocery store or your favorite department store (although, Amazon is looking to create a department store in the near future). Instead, this store was designed for the nine-to-fiver who forgot their lunch or needed a quick snack during the day. The shop only sells grab-and-go meals, packaged snacks, and drinks.  

First impressions of Amazon Go

When the subway came to a stop on E 53rd and Lexington Ave., I emerged from the exit and immediately saw the Amazon Go sign. A perfect location for a store appealing to white collar workers, the store is right in the center of tall office buildings and less than 40 feet from the popular subway stop.

From the outside the store looks sleek. There is a simple black awning with the recognizable Amazon logo and a sign that promotes the products on one side and explains the unique technology on the other.

amazon go exterior

Next, I saw the Amazon lockers just inside the first door. This is another example of Amazon’s easy delivery options because this central location is convenient for workers looking to pick up their order from a secure drop box on the way home. After taking in the façade and the lockers, it was time to go inside.

Scanning in: two options

Upon entry you have two options: scan your palm or scan a QR-code. The latter is simple, you just open the Amazon app, tap “in-store code” and scan the QR-code that comes up. The former option connects your palm to your Amazon account after you first set up the technology, only once, at a kiosk by the front door. In under two minutes, you can unlock this option, making it so you don’t even have to take out your phone and navigate to the app to enter.

scanning in to amazon go

Intrigued to see how it worked, I chose the former and set up my account at the kiosk so I could simply hover my palm over the sensor to open the turnstile gate and begin my shopping journey.

The in-store experience was unusual

My first thought once I made it past the front gate was the lack of inventory. To be fair, I went to a store clearly designed for the nine-to-five worker at 5:20 p.m. on a Friday, but I was surprised by just how many shelves were empty. Regardless of time, grocery stores rarely look like this, unless it’s the toilet paper aisle during a global pandemic.

amazon go inventory

Almost all of the grab-and-go meals were sold out, and many of the snacks were missing from their aisles. And there were no employees restocking because there were no employees at all. The only people in the store at the time were me and one other shopper who came in, grabbed a soft drink, and ran to presumably catch his train home.

Despite the store being understocked, it was extremely clean. I never saw anyone cleaning, but I’d assume that an employee comes in (or checks one of the hundreds of cameras) every so often to make sure the place is neat.

Skipping the line

The main pull to Amazon Go is, of course, the Just Walk Out technology. According to Amazon, gone are the days of having to wait in line and speak to a cashier, or even scan a barcode at self-checkout. Now, if you identified yourself on the way in and your Amazon account is linked to a credit card, all you have to do is pick up a product, in my case a granola bar for the walk home, and head out the door. It feels like stealing!

My gut instinct after leaving the store was to look around and see if anyone was waving their hands at me trying to catch me before I rounded the corner with the stolen snack. But I had paid, and I had followed the rules of the revolutionary store – that’s really all I had to do. The cameras and sensors in the store and the technology that links your phone’s Amazon account to the in-store experience do all the work.

About five minutes after exiting, I received an email thanking me for shopping with Amazon. The email contained my receipt and a summary of my visit including the length of my trip. My credit card was automatically charged for the right amount and my shopping journey was complete.

Amazon Go has pros and cons

The Amazon Go store was undoubtedly cool. The convenience of just grabbing what you want and leaving, without any lines or conversations to slow you down, is unmatched and the excitement of scanning into a store with your palm was unique.

But at the same time, I’m not so sure I’m ready for the traditional in-store experience to fall by the wayside either. The experience felt impersonal and the comfort of knowing there is an in-store associate ready to help you in a normal store was missed.

For the grab-and-go lunch rush or mid-day snack crowd that Amazon Go is trying to appeal to, the frictionless experience is ideal, but for the everyday shopper, the Just Walk Out technology may not be the latest and greatest.

grocery technology communications strategy

Retail’s Big Opportunity Is Grocery Tech: How Communications Can Support Market Leadership

Grocery continues to be the healthiest, most rapidly changing segment in retail today. Grocery and essential retailing were the bright spots in retail during COVID-19, and that trend is continuing. 

The most dramatic shift, of course, has been the surge in online shopping. Research from our client Mercatus and Incisiv found that online grocery sales will reach $250B by 2025, a 60% increase over pre-pandemic projections. To support this, grocers are investing in e-commerce, fulfillment, omnichannel capabilities and other technologies at an unprecedented rate.

According to Progressive Grocer’s 2020 Annual Report survey, grocery executives view new technology as a key priority, “Tech as a whole is top of mind for most grocers. When survey respondents were asked about the best investment their companies could make to be successful in the next five years, the top response was technology upgrades/new investments.” 

Many of our Ketner Group clients are at the forefront of these changes, with technologies that cover a broad spectrum of grocery retailing: e-commerce, personalized engagement, mobile advertising, shopper data, forecasting and replenishment, omnichannel POS and more.

The rapid changes in grocery represent a once-in-a-generation opportunity for technology companies, and a targeted, high-impact communications program can help them make the most of it. 

Here are just a few communications strategies that are increasing engagement—and leads—for our clients.

Content that engages your prospects

With the disappearance of events and in-person prospect meetings, content became an even higher priority for technology companies, as we talked about in our recent KG Connects webinar, and this trend is continuing. 

From blogs to case studies, thought leadership articles and long-form content, content (or owned media) allows companies to build influence and position themselves as an expert resource for prospects and customers. Companies can utilize content in marketing campaigns, sales outreach and social media, further amplifying its impact.

Content is a key pillar of the communications strategy for our long-time client GK Software. Our team runs GK’s blog program in the U.S., and grocery technology is a recurring theme, as demonstrated by this blog on dynamic pricing in grocery. Bylined articles, such as this recent feature in Chain Store Age, are another excellent way to use content for thought leadership.

Media relations that drives leads

Media relations can be a game-changer for grocery technology companies. And while every company aspires to be featured in The Wall Street Journal, Business Insider and the like (and we’ve made that happen for many of our clients), executives also pay attention to the retail and grocery trade media.

As Kirsty Goodlett wrote in her recent blog, a single press release helped generate more than a half dozen leads for our client Birdzi. Retailers are always curious to know what technologies other retailers are adopting, so this press release about Birdzi’s engagement with their customer Coborn’s sparked a lot of interest—and demonstrated powerful ROI.

Press releases are just part of a successful media relations program. Our team monitors industry trends and news to keep their finger on the pulse of what journalists need, and we create the right strategies—proactive pitching, rapid-response commentary, interviews, background briefings and more—to ensure our clients are included in the most important industry stories.

Analyst relations that create influence

Given the dizzying pace of technology changes in grocery and essential retail, industry analysts such as Gartner, Forrester, IDC, IHL Group, RSR Research and others rely on communication firms to help them stay current on the changing technology landscape. 

Adrienne Newcomb’s how-to blog on analyst relations analyzed the importance of a disciplined, proactive analyst relations program. Analysts are key influencers with large retailers in particular, so time and effort here can make a difference in bringing tech vendors to the attention of analysts, and ultimately retailers. 

I encourage you to check out our latest KG Connects webinar on analyst relations for unique insights from both the analyst and vendor perspective.

Grocery technology vendors must seize the opportunity 

These are just three strategies that are creating success for our grocery tech clients. There is much more we could talk about: original research, digital media, sponsorships, virtual and physical events (live events are beginning to return as more and more people receive COVID vaccines), and more. We’d be glad to talk to you about the communications strategies that are working right now.

The point is, be sure to communicate. You may have a great story to tell, but if you don’t tell it effectively and powerfully, no one will hear it. Grocery technology is arguably one of the biggest opportunities in retail right now, and the right communications program will help create success. 

birdzi ketner group case study

Birdzi + Ketner Group: How a Press Release Generated Leads

We’ve been lucky to work with our client Birdzi on and off for more than five years. Most recently, in the fall of last year, we kicked off a monthly PR engagement to help them increase brand awareness and build on our previous media relations successes.

So far, one of our most successful campaigns was distributing a press release detailing Birdzi’s engagement with their customer Coborn’s. The release helped generate more than half a dozen leads, and solidified Birdzi as a leader in customer intelligence and strategic marketing personalization.

Birdzi, founded in 2010, offers a customer intelligence platform to grocers and is led by Shekar Raman, CEO and co-founder. Gary Hawkins is a strategic advisor.

gary hawkins ketner group testimonial

“I first met Jeff Ketner more than five years ago and became familiar with Ketner Group Communications and their services at that time. I’ve been in grocery my whole life, so working with Ketner Group, which has such a deep history in retail technology, has been a really positive experience,” said Hawkins.

“It’s always fun to talk shop with Ketner Group and it’s a great pleasure to work together, whether as a client or collaboratively on industry projects–like when I appeared on a KG Connects webinar as a guest speaker.”

We couldn’t agree more! In fact, just this week our CEO Jeff Ketner and president Catherine Seeds loved talking with Gary and Shekar on the latest Retail Perch episode! Their discussion centered around the important role PR plays in a startup’s overall business plan.

Crafting PR that demonstrates grocery excellence

Last December, we kicked off the Coborn’s press release project with Birdzi. Coborn’s began working with Birdzi in 2016 and has since deployed a robust loyalty program based on understanding of customer data and insight-driven personalization. When developing the release, we wanted to detail the long history between the companies and highlight the successful collaboration.

public relations driving leads

Comparing new, digitally engaged shoppers on the Birdzi platform vs. shoppers that are not, Coborn’s saw a 355% increase in customer retention, 16% increase in trips per month and 23.7% increase in spend per month. What a success!

After setting the story’s stage with a big impact, we detailed Coborn’s MORE Rewards program, which provides Coborn’s shoppers with personalized savings and experiences. There aren’t many grocers, particularly regional grocers like Coborn’s, who are executing such a robust program. We knew sharing strong details and examples would appeal to the media.

Once the release was drafted and complete, we put it on the wire and completed personalized pitching to journalists.

Grocery industry pick-up inspires prospects

Our goal of creating a strong story that truly resonated with the media was a success. The Coborn’s news was picked up in six publications: Chain Store Age, Progressive Grocer, RIS News, The Shelby Report, Supermarket News and The Wise Marketer newsletter.

The articles demonstrated Birdzi as a leader in customer loyalty and directly generated interest from other regional grocers. Birdzi received more than a half dozen leads through their website and LinkedIn, with prospective customers interested in implementing some of the same strategies as Coborn’s.

shekar raman ketner group testimonial

“When you imagine an ideal outcome for a press release, your dream is that the news drives interest from prospects, but you don’t often expect as many leads as we saw with Coborn’s!” said Raman

“Not only did the news drive leads, but the coverage sparked conversations with our broader network, including friends, partners and current customers. Coborn’s is a perfect use case for grocery innovation, and we’re thrilled to tell their story with Ketner Group.”

Continuing to tell innovative stories

While the Coborn’s press release was a great success, our work as communication professionals is never done.

Birdzi has a steady queue of customer stories to tell for the coming year, and we already followed up the Coborn’s press release with a story of how Birdzi customer Harps launched a mobile app to drive engagement. That release saw similar results, with seven unique pieces of coverage generated.

Looking to master your communications strategy as well as Birdzi does? Reach out to us today to discuss how we can help you craft a strategic PR program that creates thought leadership, brand recognition and a few leads along the way!

retail 4.0 gary hawkins webinar

Grocery’s Great Digital Revolution Through COVID-19

In November, we had the pleasure of being joined by Gary Hawkins, founder and CEO of the Center for Advancing Retail Technology (CART), on KG Connects. Hosted by Ketner Group CEO, Jeff Ketner, Gary walked listeners through what the digital evolution of grocery means for retailers and shoppers alike.

CART connects retail to new innovative capabilities through programs, events and education. Additionally, Gary is a highly sought-after strategic adviser and speaker, as well as a board member of companies that bring game-changing capabilities to market. He has written three books, Retail in the Age of i being the latest.

Below you can find a full summary of the webinar. If you’d like to view it on demand, you can check it out on Zoom here.

Retail 4.0: What the future of grocery retail entails

To set the stage, Gary and Jeff first discussed Gary’s latest whitepaper, “Retail 4.0: The Age of Metamorphosis” reveals the current and future changes expected in the grocery industry. There are three key themes Gary focuses on.

The first is the blurring of reality.

As Gary explained, “The world of digital, the online world is meeting and fusing together, melding with the actual physical world. As these things come together, it’s absolutely beginning to change and transform how we shop.”

retail 4.0 key themes

The majority of people use their phones while they shop, which, according to Gary, opens the door to not only incredible amounts of information, but also augmented reality. As augmented reality technology continues to improve, the in-store experience will begin to utilize it more and more. 

The second theme is the automation of business practices.

“Instead of a physical robot, we’re talking software robots that can begin to automate the decision-making process in a growing number of areas across the retail organization.”

The third theme is the opportunity for traditional retailers. Specifically, the ability for these retailers to, “play the exponential value creation game building out their digital networks.”

Who’s spearheading the future of grocery retail?

After the closer look into Retail 4.0, Jeff asked a rather simple question, “Who is doing it right?”

Who else but Amazon?

grocery sales change

“The new Amazon Fresh Farm…They’ve brought Alexa into the store now,” Gary described, “if a shopper has a question, they don’t have to seek out a clerk, they simply go to an Alexa station and ask their question.”

Which ties right back to the first key theme in Retail 4.0.

The pandemic’s impact on retail

When asked about the role of COVID-19 on the grocery industry, Gary had one word—Accelerant.

“Before [the pandemic], online grocery was maybe somewhere around one or 2% of sales. Literally overnight, retailers experienced a doubling or triple of online sales. I’ve talked to some retailers that saw even 5x or 6x of online sales growth. Simply exploded.”

Gary continued by explaining that the growth has plateaued, allowing retailers to reassess their systems and ensure they are prepared for the foreseeable future.

He also noted that, “for an industry that has almost resisted innovation and change for the past 100 years, when they need to, retailers can move really fast.”

One area where he saw this unusual speed was employee communication. Retailers, typically through apps, were able to push out training for sanitation, coordinate messaging and rapidly changing scheduling for every associate.

Grocery innovation on the horizon

Being at the forefront of new technologies, Gary sees a lot of interesting new startups enter the retail space. One area that he is watching with a keen eye goes right back to the first theme of Retail 4.0: augmented reality.

“I saw a stat recently from Gartner that over 100 million people are using AR primarily through their smartphones. I think we are simply going to see that explode in the next 12 months as Apple introduce their smart glasses,” Gary continued, “I’m really looking to that technology to transform the shopping experience.”

Marketing to the individual shopper

Augmented reality isn’t the only cutting edge. Gary also lauded AI and machine learning’s current and future potential, as well as its ability to power key business systems such as personalization.

“It’s helping to facilitate the automation of different decisions. For example, it is more efficient for a mass retailer to go to market on an individual customer basis than it is to go to market with traditional mass promotion.”

While it would seem that meeting the individual preferences of shoppers may be harder to achieve, Gary explained that, at scale, the 1-to-1 marketing tactics will, in-fact, smooth supply chain issues by removing the spikes in unit sales caused by mass promotion.

gary hawkins grocery evolution quote

While there are challenges to implementing this method, they aren’t caused by technology, but by retailers and brands themselves. Gary stated that retailers need to move away from over a century of thinking about how they do business.

This includes brand promotions as well.

 “When you shift to a true 1-to-1 model, that changes how brands pay retailers to promote their brands to shoppers on a mass scale.”

The 2021 digital retail experience, and beyond

The fact is, in twelve months, we may find a very different retail experience in grocery stores that are on the cutting-edge of technology. Online grocery has had a major impact on the physical store, and Gary expects to see stores become hybridized between a traditional grocery store and a micro-fulfillment center.

“Every retailer is now focused on making online retail profitable, and when you’re sending people up and down the isles to fulfill those orders, it’s tough to get profitable,” Gary said.

Gary is seeing a, “stampede,” toward the automation and micro-fulfillment side of grocery retail. He expects that stores will begin to move the micro-fulfillment center to the back of the store, while the front half focuses on fresh foods and customer experience. Experience being the operative word according to Gary.

“If that store can’t provide an experience to get shoppers out of their home and into the store, they won’t be there,” and because grocery delivery is so prominent, he explained that, “the days of utility shopping are gone.”

Breaking into the grocery technology market

Gary was asked, “how do new technology companies market themselves to retailers?” While the inability to meet face-to-face makes marketing a challenge, Gary offered a bit of advice.

“Understand the space, the retailer’s challenges and needs and then work to craft that vision and story about why the retailer should be talking to you. Retailers need to focus on the vision — what’s coming — because things are moving really, really fast.”

Regional grocers can utilize technology to keep up with major retailers like Walmart. According to Gary, “it’s not about access to the technology, it’s about can that regional retailers change their culture? Can they move faster? Deploy things faster? Can they change their processes and how they think about their business?”

Missed digital grocxery webinar

Hear it direct from Gary and sign up for the next KG Connects

If you’d like to watch the whole webinar, you can watch it on demand anytime.

The last one for 2020: Where in the H*LL Does the Future of Work Go From Here?”

As we wrap up 2020, we’re looking toward 2021 and how work will change even further than it has over the past year. Join Carolyn Birsky, Daniel Oppong and Sterling Hawkins as we dive deep into how to maintain a culture, recruit talent and keep some kind of normalcy all while remote. We look forward to seeing you! Register here for free.

NY Fashion Tech Lab overview

A Peek Inside The New York Fashion Tech Lab

In our latest KG Connects webinar series, we heard from Jackie Trebilcock firsthand about the work that the New York Fashion Tech Lab (NYFTLab) is doing to empower women-led fashion-tech and retail-tech companies.

Jackie is the managing director of NYFTLab and boasts over 15 years of experience in fashion, technology and business development. She has spent much of that career working with entrepreneurs to grow their vision and companies via strategic planning and relevant industry introductions.

Elevating fashion-tech companies

For the past eight years, NYFTLab has facilitated partnerships between growing companies and big-name global brands. Founded by Springboard Enterprises, alongside key fashion retailers, NYFTLab’s mission is to support women-led companies that have developed incredible innovations merging fashion, retail and technology.

Through the connections to capital and retail partners, Jackie describes what NYFTLab does as, “a business catalyst…our whole goal with this is to provide more exposure and a platform for the companies to share what they do.”  

This is a sentiment echoed by co-founder and CEO of HaftaHave, Amanda Latifi, a 2020 Lab participant.

“The connections and relationships that Springboard and Jackie have forged with top brands and marketers in the retail industry is bar none,” Amanda said. “This is not VC’s telling retailers about emerging tech, but retailers selecting emerging technology to work with based on known needs and pain points.”

NYFTLab is empowering women and emerging tech

NYFTLab is highly focused on a particular group, recruiting women-led early and growth-stage emerging technology companies. While that description might be narrow, the areas of interest for the Lab are anything but. AR/VR, blockchain, data analytics, content marketing, supply chain and so many more technologies are welcomed into the fold.

Participants in the Lab have hailed from all over the globe. From Paris to Singapore, anyone from anywhere can apply to the NYFTLab program. The Lab also partners with brands and retailers from outside of the U.S.

“It’s becoming increasingly more global than it was when we started,” Jackie said.

Jackie Trebilcock quote

The next generation of fashion technology

The 2020 Lab featured eight companies that represent the cutting edge of fashion and retail tech: Reflaunt, Becoco, Sozie, Zoomlook, Futureproof, Change of Paradigm, Heuritech and HaftaHave.

While the participants were selected in February, the fact that they are pushing the bounds of technology means that they were well-poised to take on the unique challenges that 2020 brought.

When asked about the intersection of technology and fashion, particularly in the pandemic, Jackie said that, “everyone needs to think differently. The consumer has been really changed and challenged as to how they can shop how they used to. All of this has created a huge opportunity for new companies to come to the forefront.”

Missed the webinar?

Watch this webinar and sign up for the next KG Connects

To learn more about the NYFTLab and the 2020 Lab participants, watch the webinar on demand.

On deck: Grocery’s Digital Disruption: What’s Ahead for 2021

The world is changing at a breakneck pace, and retail is no exception. Mark Fairhurst and Sylvain Perrier, creators of the “Digital Grocer” podcast will focus on what’s ahead for grocery retailers in this fireside chat featuring special guest host Jeff Ketner. We look forward to you being there! You can register here.

Spooky and Uncertain Times: Halloween 2020

Spooky and Uncertain Times: Halloween 2020

When you rest your heavy October eyes, what do you see? Smiling jack o’ lanterns? Casper the Friendly Ghost? Bowls of delicious candy? If so, consider yourself lucky….

Those of us at the Ketner Group have been disturbed by an image of pure terror as we’ve slipped into our slumbers… skeletons filled with spiderwebs, ghouls, goblins, broken dreams, all dancing under the FULL MOON on HALLOWEEN. That’s right folks — a Halloween full moon. Just when you thought 2020 couldn’t get any more 2020, the moon rears its spooky glow on the 31st of October for a Q4 scare.

We’re not even talking the friendly Harvest Moon that Neil Young so lovingly crooned(?) about. This will be a Hunter’s Moon according to the Farmer’s Almanac. And while we’ll all be hunting for candy, the question we must all ask is… who will be hunting for us?

To answer that sinister question in an obvious way, it will be retailers hunting for our wallets as the holiday season approaches. But what does this Halloween’s retail landscape look like? Allow your mouse to be the planchette on this Ouija board of projections as we conjure some insights.

The boo normal

While last year was a graveyard smash, Halloween 2020 will obviously look a little different amid COVID-19.

With the CDC offering some safe trick or treating guidelines and alternatives, thankfully trick or treating is still on the table. I say that as a 26-year-old who definitely will not be trying to fill that pillowcase this year dressed as a ninja (mask included).

Still, according to the National Retail Federation, more than 75% of consumers say COVID-19 is impacting their plans to celebrate Halloween, with overall participation down to 58%. “Plans for parties, trick-or-treating, handing out candy and visiting haunted houses have all dropped, due largely to the fact that some activities do not easily adhere to social distancing.”

NRF expects this drop in participation to reduce the holiday’s spending to $8.05 billion, down from $8.78 billion in 2019. However, those who celebrating plan to spend an average of $92.12, up from $86.27 in 2019.

Ultimately, much remains uncertain for retailers this year as shoppers wait until the last minute to decide if and how they’ll celebrate. “It could either be the worst year we’ve ever had or the best year we’ve ever had,” said Tom Fallenstein, CEO of HalloweenCostumes.com, in a Marketplace interview.

Retailers and brands making a social media splash

With everyone grasping for a hero these days, a 12-foot-tall leader has emerged. One of the biggest celebrities of Halloween has been Home Depot’s “12 ft. Giant-Sized Skeleton with LifeEyes.” This hip decoration went viral on Twitter and TikTok, inspiring humerus content and selling out a month before Halloween by Oct. 1.

If you’re still interested in experiencing a life with this decoration, Home Depot uses AR to let shoppers see how their home could be haunted enhanced by this big guy. We’ve seen this capability with furniture in the past, but never has it spurred more gasps. Visit the product page on your phone to experience it for yourself (disclaimer: Ketner Group is NOT responsible for any frights or scares the user may experience).

As it goes on corporate Twitter, other brands hopped on this bandwagon as quick as they could.

NRF Quote Halloween 2020

A digital Halloween & holiday season

This clinging to an unlikely idol makes sense with America looking for new ways to celebrate Halloween this year. In fact, 17% of NRF survey respondents say they plan to celebrate virtually.

In a year of digital and e-commerce explosion, Halloween may not even be the beginning of the holiday season. Amazon Prime Day, having moved from its usual July date and taking place Oct. 13-14, is expected by many to be the kickoff to the holiday shopping season. According to Business Insider, “Amazon Prime Day 2020 will be unlike any other since its debut five years ago. Amid the backdrop of a pandemic and recessionary headwinds, this year’s event promises significant changes that will shake up the entire retail landscape heading into the holidays.”

Prime Day is expected to generate nearly $10 billion in sales worldwide, according to eMarketer.

Time goes on, but the frights remain

There are plenty of uncertainties in this world, now more than ever (to give you some spooky, early-pandemic commercial flashback). Cities are calling off Halloween events, states are putting forth guidelines for celebrating and All Hollow’s Eve retail projections are trending downward but still TBD.

Still, there will be plenty of fun to be had, whether digitally, socially distanced or alone on the couch slugging Reese’s Crunches (a sandwich consisting of two Crunch bars, with a Reese’s in the middle).

In this uncertain world, however, we can all take pleasure in knowing that, like every year, Halloween will be extremely spooky…now more than ever amid a FULL HUNTER’S MOON. 

marketing investments 2021

Retail’s Big Show Has Gone Digital: What Should Tech Vendors Do Now?

NRF, the National Retail Federation’s annual expo, has always lived up to its nickname of “Retail’s Big Show.” For the past 20+ years, Ketner Group has braved New York’s frigid January weather to help our clients make the most of retail’s signature event.

That’s ancient history now, of course, for NRF and every other industry event. Almost overnight, virtual events have replaced physical events, and 2021’s January NRF is now a two-week digital event, with a physical expo to follow in June. Since no one knows what to expect from the new format, it’s opened up a huge void in sales and marketing that retail tech vendors are scrambling to fill.

This has also freed up new marketing budget for some companies, since their NRF 2021 budget may go largely unspent for the remainder of the year. We’re actively working with many clients to help refocus their marketing activities in the absence of NRF, and here are four recommendations to consider.

4 marketing investments instead of nrf 2021

1. Double down on PR

As we wrote in a blog post this summer, this is not the time to go dark on PR. Companies have typically viewed NRF as a prime event for new customer and product announcements, and we see no reason why this should change.

After all, retailers will have set their priorities for technology investments, and they’ll want to know more about your solutions, customers, technology direction and understanding of the challenges they face in 2021 (and there will be plenty, coming off retail’s most disruptive year in decades).

So start planning your PR strategy and campaigns now. This includes press releases, thought leadership content, editorial briefings, media relations campaigns and more; if you have a robust pipeline of announcements, get started this fall and keep your foot on the accelerator pedal through January.

2. Step up your analyst relations program

Retailers’ technology priorities have shifted dramatically in the wake of COVID-19, and they will be looking to industry analysts to help them prioritize investments and vendors.

This fall and winter will be critical times to refresh your messaging and conduct analyst update briefings. It’s important to understand key analysts’ viewpoints and to demonstrate how your solutions help retailers meet the challenges of the new, post-COVID world.

If you’re not currently investing in analyst services, this may be the time to redirect some of your NRF budget, to ensure constant access to analyst research, strategic direction, inquiries and feedback.

Research projects can pay big dividends, too, whether it’s with a traditional analyst firm or through a market research group such as Researchscape, who we’ve partnered with on multiple occasions.

3. Remember: content is still king

In the absence of face-to-face meetings at events, content is more important than ever. Conversion rates are six times higher for companies that use content marketing, according to Aberdeen Group, and fresh content will drive greater engagement on your company website and provide fresh material for your lead nurturing and content marketing programs.

Content comes in a wide range of formats, including blog posts, infographics, customer case studies, ebooks, whitepapers and more.

Repurpose your content when it makes sense, in order to get the most out of your content marketing investments. One long-form piece of content can be condensed and reused for blog posts and thought leadership articles for media, for example, and also be used to drive social media engagement.

4. Complete a messaging and website refresh

Many companies have used NRF to launch new marketing messages, and that shouldn’t change. After all, NRF has gone digital; what better time to revamp your digital presence?

With all the changes in retail in 2020, your company’s messaging and website is likely due for an overall, too. Make sure your messaging and your website are current, relevant and speak to the real needs that retailers will face in 2021.

After all, your website is the foundation for all other marketing initiatives. When done properly, PR, analyst relations and content will always drive people back to the website.

Focus on the future

These are some of the key initiatives that companies must focus on in the coming months, and there is much more that can be done.

Companies should also take a close look at NRF 2021’s virtual offering, too; just because an event has gone digital is no reason to not be involved. But given the uncertainties of a new format, it’s important to put even more emphasis on the initiatives we’ve described here. 

If you’re interested in diving into one of these initiatives and would like some help, we offer a free 30-minute consultation. We’d love to talk about how we can power an impactful marketing initiative. Get in touch.

retail re-emergence post-covid

“Retail Re-Emergence” in a Post-COVID World

For the August 2020 edition of our KG Connects webinar series, we hosted internationally known retail experts Manolo Almagro and Ben Gauthier from Q Division. They are experts in commerce and technology, working with startups and brands worldwide to promote and deploy emerging retail tech and take advantage of key trends. They joined us for a conversation on what to expect as the retail world resets, recovers and advances in the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic and economic downturn.

COVID-19 creates an opportunity for retailers

While “post-Covid” may be overly optimistic to say at this point, retailers and technology companies need to know what to prioritize and where to focus to shore up infrastructure while the “opportunity” of closed or limited store capacity, so to speak, still exists.

While big box retailers including Target, Lowe’s and Best Buy have performed exceedingly well in recent months, mall-anchor retailers such as Macy’s, Nordstrom’s and Kohl’s are facing big challenges. In all cases, most of the response to the pandemic was cemented well before 2020, as they deployed or failed to deploy the right technology infrastructure, customer engagement strategies and assortments that served customer needs.

changing-consumer-behavior

A big part of that is that the way people shop for regular items – from groceries to back-to-school items to holiday shopping – is changing. Of course, that was true before the pandemic and those changes have accelerated tremendously since.

Retailers must go virtual to meet changing consumer behavior

Just like the way we communicate and entertain ourselves as communities have gone fully virtual, retail has to as well. And it’s benefited the big retailers who have pushed innovative solutions to sticky problems and punished the laggards hanging onto old glory. 

As foot traffic in physical stores continues to slowly but steadily regain momentum, it’s essential to remember that it’s human nature to be social. Shopping in person is part of that, but in a “post”-pandemic world, the digital influence can’t be ignored.

Of course, the way technology is deployed needs to be strategic and what works for one retailer would be foolish for another. That said, technology investments shouldn’t be patchwork, hole-filling remedies. Retailers need to truly reconsider how their business model plays with their consumers’ wishes – now and into the future – and respond in kind.

Technology is ready to power future retail success

Ben and Manolo took us through some of the most important innovations. Of course, the pattern will be different for everyone, but what’s true for all is that a service or process that was once radical may quickly become foundational, and what was once foundational may seems suddenly secondary.

retail-post-covid

One stat that stood out was that 75% of shoppers have tried a new shopping behavior since COVID-19 struck, according to McKinsey. And according to IBM, we’ve advanced up to five years ahead in e-commerce because of the fundamental need.

For example, curbside was a forced behavior among most grocers. A somewhat slow-to-innovate industry with customers who aren’t always highly tech savvy, curbside quickly became a lifeline and is now very popular across demographics.

When we look at restaurants, we also learn a big lesson on loyalty and owning the customer relationship fully even when launching new services. Restaurants obviously took a huge hit. But some sectors, such as pizza, did well. They were structured to thrive on quick delivery and had the ecosystem in place.

For others, the fees were so high on partnering with a service like Uber Eats that they struggled to really take advantage of the profit those services bring. And when the customer interaction with the restaurant goes through the app, brand identity and value take a hit, too.

That said, consumer loyalty across retail segments quickly shifted from an enjoyable in-person experience or goods rewards program to more fundamental needs, and availability became paramount for driving loyalty.  Now, success is all about delivering those new services with efficiency and transparency, and providing great results with availability, quality, speed and consistency.

How to identify the best technology application

Want to learn about the specific technology applications that will take center stage as retailers look to own their customer relationships while reimagining what retail experiences mean to their brand? Watch the webinar to learn more about:

  • Customer experience
    • BOPIS
    • Walk-up, curbside, drive-through
    • Cashierless/unattended stores
  • Home commerce
    • E-commerce
    • Virtual shopping / telepresence
    • Home delivery partners
  • Customer-centric convenience
    • Buy now pay later
    • Contactless transactions
    • Loyalty = availability
  • Operations and supply chain
    • ML demand forecasting
    • Micro-warehousing
    • Autonomous everything and robotics

Next up: discussing inclusive communication

It’s also critical that no business loses sight of the power of communication to develop and maintain strong communities. In September, we’ll host Kia Jarmon for a conversation on The Art of Inclusive Communication on how to do just that. We hope to see you there!

catch covid-19 retail webinar on demand
retail evolution 2020

Retail Evolution 2020: Pandemic Edition

Like much of the U.S., non-essential retailers closed their doors in mid-March. The whispers returned and eventually reached a crescendo, “The ‘Retail Apocalypse’ has arrived!” We’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the ‘Retail Apocalypse’ is not here.

One more time for the cheap seats in the back (remember those?), THE ‘RETAIL APOCALYPSE’ IS NOT HERE. In fact, the ‘Retail Apocalypse’ is never happening. So let’s remove that from our vocabulary and put the rumors to bed, once and for all. Instead, let’s talk about what’s really happening — a retail evolution.

Like everything else in 2020, the retail industry has been faced with a new normal. Retailers who have failed to evolve, have had to make difficult decisions, from closing stores to declaring bankruptcy and even all out business closures.

Meanwhile, many retailers have thrived through the pandemic. In fact, Target reported that its curbside pickup service, Drive Up, grew 700% in Q2. 700%! How? Because again and again, Target has transformed to meet the changing needs of shoppers. With that, let’s dive deeper into the 2020 retail evolution.

The essentials

While many retailers temporarily shuttered to comply with state and local mandates, essential retailers like grocers, pharmacies and convenience stores, remained open. These retailers faced new challenges, from supply chain shortages to daunting volumes of online grocery orders.

However, most adapted and emerged as heroes. With digital grocery sales reaching a an all-time high of $7.2 billion in June, grocers have accepted that many of the forced changes of 2020 are here to stay. Grocers and their solution providers alike have worked hand-in-hand to rapidly evolve and meet shoppers’ needs as we continue to stay home.

essential retailers

Amazon’s 2017 acquisition of Whole Foods ignited a fire in grocers, and many began examining and implementing much needed technologies, from AI-enabled supply chains to digital grocery solutions. No doubt, they could have done more to be prepared for 2020 but no one anticipated a pandemic.

Grocers recognize the need for AI-enabled and digital technologies now more than ever. As a result, they will continue to digitally transform to address the fundamental shift in how consumers shop for everyday essentials.

Digital realities

Across the industry, retailers who have failed to embrace digital transformation have suffered immeasurably in 2020. On the other hand, forward-thinking solution providers who have been waiting in the wings for their heyday, and the retailers adopting those solutions, are reaping the rewards. Many digital solutions, like virtual fit and live shopping, that once seemed futuristic are now necessary to retail survival.

retail tech solution future

From our daily conversations with solution providers, we’ve seen that retailers are clamoring to adapt new technologies ahead of the holiday season. Furthermore, consumers are adopting these new omni-channel shopping options as part of their ongoing routines.

The retail evolution is here to stay

Call it what you will — trade, retail, digital commerce — the retail industry will continue to evolve. It’s here to stay and has been for thousands of years. Yes, it will change but so will the rest of the world, and retailers and shoppers alike will adapt.

Speaking of changes in the retail industry, be sure to register for August’s KG Connects webinar, “‘Retail Re-Emergence’ in a Post-COVID World,” with Q Division.

kg connects august 2020
woman shopping for clothes in a store

Sensory Marketing: A Retailer’s Friend or Foe?

It’s a no brainer that emotions influence buying behavior. Advertisers use tactics daily to grab our attention and drive brand awareness. Similarly, our five senses can also be used to influence our behavior, whether it’s through the attractive color of a sweater or the smells in a candle store. But there’s one sense that online and brick and mortar retailers are realizing can be their biggest weapon or biggest downfall: touch.

What is sensory marketing?

Haptic perception is the process of recognizing objects through touch, and haptic marketing, or sensory marketing, can help retailers sell products through the sensory effect a product can have on a shopper.

Sensory marketing takes place when a shopper squeezes an avocado to see if it’s ripe, samples a lip gloss or lifts their arms to see if a new shirt fits. While this is not a new concept, these examples of sensory marketing are done in physical settings.

E-commerce’s role with sensory marketing

Before COVID-19, a Retail Dive survey found that more than half of shoppers visit a brick and mortar store to touch or see a product they may end up buying online. So while e-commerce may be touted as a more convenient option, it often fails to mimic the in-store experience due to the lack of physical touch and ability to test out or try on products.

The letdown of making a major purchase online and have it not meet expectations when it arrives – not to mention the hassle of returns – can be a main deterrent and reason why shoppers still visit brick and mortar stores. The act of touching or testing out a product reassures the shopper that their choice is the correct one.

Sensory experiential marketing

The pandemic has created an unprecedented opportunity for savvy e-commerce retailers to use technology to continue taking market share from stores. But it’s important to consider if online retail can ever fully match the same experience that physical stores offer.

Traditionally, online retailers have worked to alleviate haptic marketing growing pains by offering trial periods or samples of products. And now if you shop online, retailers have detailed product information and high-quality images, so consumers know when they’re buying a cotton or rayon top.

Now, with artificial intelligence and virtual or augmented reality, consumers can even visualize larger items in their own space – such as a new couch or a Christmas tree right in their living room. When done through a device, haptic marketing has also taken an experiential turn.

Common in the gaming world, a viewer’s phone can buzz or vibrate when watching a video. Imagine watching an ad for running shoes, and every time the runner jumps, you feel the impact on your phone. While it may not be effective in conveying how the shoes fit on your own feet, this new form of marketing can definitely increase brand awareness.

Retail’s relationship to emotion

The use of sensory marketing can be very nostalgic as the five senses are tied to emotions. When you’re sitting in a store, debating which couch to buy, you imagine yourself sitting on it in your own home. This is harder to imagine behind a screen. Luckily, when there’s a barrier between the shopper and product, e-commerce retailers are getting smarter about how they market these products.