5 Lessons for Grocers From NRF 2019

The annual National Retail Federation (NRF) Big Show is a prime opportunity for grocers to come together, share knowledge, and ideate on growing trends and ways to capitalize on them in the upcoming year. Executives from some of the world’s largest retailers take the stage and share their expertise, providing attendees and exhibitors with enough takeaways to spur strategic decisions throughout the year, and create products, campaigns, and content that inspires consumers and drives industry innovation.

We intend to do just that.

After attending NRF 2019, we came away with major insights into the way that retail at large, and grocery specifically, will change over the course of the year, and what retailers can expect looking forward. Here are the things you need to know as a grocer to lead the way in 2019:

Customers want to see their values reflected in the stores they purchase from

Society has shifted toward placing significance on community and shared values. While quality used to reign supreme as the driver of customer loyalty, today’s consumers have the opportunity to buy high-quality groceries from anywhere – even online. What sets a retailer apart, and what brings a customer back to a store again and again, is a deeper, values-based connection. This year and beyond, it is important for grocers to consider what they stand for and how they are conveying that to their customers.

Carl Boutet from CloudRaker and David Marcotte of Kantar Consulting said just that in their session entitled, “What Grocery Retail will look like in 2030”. Their exact quote: “Where you shop defines who you are.”

Are you committed to providing fresh, organic produce to your customers? Perhaps you need to invest in signage or marketing efforts that share your message with a health-focused audience. More interested in attracting a customer that is community-oriented? Sponsor local events, or integrate a charitable component into your business model. If your customer feels that they can relate to your company’s values, they are more likely to give their coveted loyalty to your stores.

Customers value their in-store experience

In addition to seeking out stores that share their values, consumers are also craving an experience. This was an idea that was hammered home in session after session at NRF 2019. With the convenience of online grocery shopping and home delivery at their fingertips, customers are more adamant than ever that if they’re going to spend time within your store it better be worth their while.

So, how to create a shopping experience that surprises and delights your customers? The key concepts to keep in mind are: consistency, simplicity, and novelty.

Customers should be able to walk into any of your stores and expect a similar experience, one that directly conveys your brand point of view and your commitment to their satisfaction. They should be able to find what they need quickly and easily, and if they’re having trouble, should be able to rely on store associates for seamless customer service. Finally, a customer’s experience within your store should include a bit of novelty, something that makes your stores stand out from your competitors’. This could be anything from a unique product assortment to new customer-facing technology.

Discounts can’t be your only customer acquisition strategy

In a session entitled “The Selfless Retailer: Winning Customers in an Age of Disloyalty” led by executives from Nielsen and ciValue, one particular stat blew us away. The presented research showed that discount offers had a 24% decline in sale effectiveness from 2014 to 2018. That means you can’t rely on coupons as your main strategy to bring in customers. Instead, hone in on your in-store experience and value positioning in order to have a larger impact in 2019.

Consider this: grocery as a subscription service

Many grocery customers shop based on a set routine, even if it’s done subconsciously. They buy the same products again and again, sticking with the products that they’ve enjoyed before and are comfortable with. What if that routine could be automated for the customer’s convenience?

In the session led by CloudRaker and Kantar Consulting mentioned above, research was presented that indicated that this kind of subscription-based grocery shopping could be on the horizon. Other segments of the retail industry have already taken advantage of this technique. Beauty retailers prompt customers to purchase on a subscription model so that a new tube of mascara will arrive on their doorstep every three months once their previous tube dries out. The home category has gone in a similar direction, allowing customers to sign up for a service that will deliver their basic necessities (toilet paper, cleaning supplies, etc.) to their home as soon as they need them, using the data that they’ve collected over time to determine the frequency with which they should deliver the product. Imagine how a subscription model could augment your in-store grocery business!

Get ready for smart-device shopping

According to a study by Voicebot.ai, nearly one in five U.S. adults today have access to a smart speaker. In the future, it’s likely that more areas of the home will become “smart”, according to the aforementioned session on what grocery will look like in 2030.

The aspect of the smart home that is most interesting for grocers is the inevitable addition of a smart shopping system. Perhaps it will manifest in a refrigerator that can order food for the homeowner depending on seasonality, the time of the week, favorite meals and dietary preferences using purchase data history. We’re not far from seeing the ways in which data collection can be repurposed for hyper personalization in retail – and you’ll need to be prepared.


These were the top five takeaways for grocers from NRF 2019. Consider each concept with an open mind and the mindset that they may provide opportunities for future growth and customer engagement, and you’ll secure a place at the forefront of this industry. Which of these lessons will you take action on in your business this year?