The COVID-19 crisis has upended life as we know it, and perhaps no industry has had to pivot so quickly – and so drastically – as the grocery industry, which has had to find a way to meet the essential needs of the customer while ensuring their safety.

Not only did grocers have to juggle long queues, adjust opening hours, and source the protective equipment for their employees; they also needed to navigate supply chain disruptions, stock issues, and unclear fulfilment dates.

Grocers offering home delivery services have found themselves overwhelmed by demand, while some smaller brick-and-mortar locations have had trouble maintaining social distancing guidelines in limited physical space. The old way of doing business has vanished in a post-COVID world, and a nebulous new frontier has risen in its place.

Unsurprisingly, these mounting challenges have accelerated digital transformation in the industry. Grocers are racing to update legacy infrastructure and stay ahead in an ever-shifting landscape, and are implementing new technologies and forming new partnerships to do so.


The digital grocer is no longer a wait-and-see proposition – it’s the here and now

Not so long ago, ordering a bottle of beer on a smartphone would have seemed abstract, like the kind of thing someone else would do. Now, all that’s changed. Online grocery shopping and click-and-collect services have become commonplace, the adoption curve has been accelerated, and customers are embracing a new shopping journey.

By now, almost all customers have had an insight into what a digital grocer is and how digital commerce can optimise their shopping experience. Indeed, Salesforce research on 1,513 consumers across Europe found that almost 68% of consumers expect to buy essential goods online after COVID-19 has subsided.

Brands that are not already using digital capabilities to build relationships, ease pain points, and win over new adopters are missing the chance to engage meaningfully with their customers. The COVID-19 crisis has created a digital imperative for brands: transform now, or risk being left behind.


What the future of the Digital Grocer can look like

The future of the digital grocer may not be vastly different than what’s been imagined for years: a streamlined and intuitive environment, where replenishment and pricing have been optimised. Soon, a typical digital grocer might look something like this:


Notably, the huge, unwieldy billboards and video displays dreamt up by generations of science-fiction writers are nowhere to be found. Instead, digital grocers communicate on a hyper-personal level, with targeted offers and product recommendations delivered straight to mobile apps.


1. Online Order Pickups (In-store or Curbside)

Why? Over two-thirds (68%) of shoppers expect to buy essential goods online after the health threat of COVID-19 has subsided. The option to buy online and pick up in-store — once a niche offering of big box stores — has become more popular as some jurisdictions move to allow curbside commerce before reopening stores to customers.

What will it do? As is already happening in many countries, shoppers will buy a product online and then pick it up in-store (e.g. counters or refrigerated lockers) or at curbside.

How can Salesforce work in the background?

  • Task Creation: Automatic task creation on employee apps, instructing them to pick up orders triggered by online purchases linked to the store.
  • Order Confirmation: Employee App to confirm online orders for pick-up service.

2. Traffic & Density Analysis


Why? Data will be used to ensure visibility and predict in-store shopper behaviour, allowing grocery retailers to optimise physical distancing and track conversion.

What will it do? To prevent overcrowding, shoppers can book time slots online (via chatbots), which in turn would allow Wi-fi tracking of MAC Addresses when entering stores. Advanced digital grocers can leverage data for heatmap analysis of shoppers’ in-store behaviour (via computer vision) and see conversion paths per aisle, per category, and by demographic.

How can Salesforce work in the background?

  • Booking Management: Community Cloud solutions can surface available time slots at shoppers’ preferred stores, with Salesforce chatbots providing further assistance.

  • Real-time Tracking: CDP to capture anonymous shopper data and location for booked customers entering the store, and then match with existing shopper profiles.

  • Traffic & Behaviour Analysis: Tableau to visualise the density of shoppers in each area, coupled with insights for conversions based on customer behaviour.


3. In-store Health Advisors

Why? Grocery stores will become sources of inspiration for healthy in-house cooking, and feature health advisors focused on fresh products available in-store.

What will they do? Advisors can educate grocery shoppers on meal plans, personal diets, and in-store products. They will be equipped to digitally engage with shoppers post-contact (e.g. meal-kit recommendations), as well as have access to shoppers’ personalised nutrition dashboards based on previously purchased products and favourite recipes.

How can Salesforce work in the background?

  • Clienteling: Providing access to customer profiles and personalised nutrition dashboards built on Tableau and Einstein Analytics, with the ability to follow-up digitally through any channel (e.g. email, phone, SMS, social media).

  • Appointments: Lightning Scheduler or other ISV solutions to book in-store or virtual consultations with the Health Advisor.

  • Integration & Scale: Combination of Heroku & Mulesoft to connect POS data, loyalty information, inventory, and promotions to build a scaled version of the single view of the shopper.


4. Assistant Robots 


Why? As manual labour becomes more costly due to rising minimum wages and worker protections, human workers will focus on value-added services as assistant robots take over replaceable manual tasks.

What will they do? Assistant robots can monitor shelves, alert in-store workers for out-of-stock items or other problems related to merchandise presentation (e.g. products in the wrong aisle), help customers call employees for assistance, and keep the store clean and sanitary.

How can Salesforce work in the background?

  • Employee Alert: Automatic case creation tasking employees with restocking certain aisles and attending to in-store customer queries.

  • Digital Maintenance: Connected via IoT to inform field service technicians of any robot malfunctions.


5. Hyper Personalisation

Why? Grocers need to invest in building customer loyalty. Today’s shoppers have diverse tastes and values, and retailers need to better understand their preferences to meet their needs.

What will it do? Shoppers can receive ads delivered to mobile phones with hyper-personalised messaging based on the shopper’s location, loyalty card information, buying history, the time of day, and even what sports team he or she roots for. Underlying CRM will capture all preferences (e.g. food allergies) with real-time recommendations based on basket products (e.g. wine selections that go with Thai curry). There will be in-store displays to provide targeted promotions to specific types of shoppers as they pass by, and digital receipts will contain personal recommendations.

How can Salesforce work in the background?

  • Personalisation: It will be key to be able to analyse first-party and third-party retail data to promote ads to shoppers based on location (such as postcode). Grocery retailers will be able to scale real-time interaction with Evergage, offer personalised coupons, promotions, and offer related to purchase history – all consolidated under Salesforce CDP and integrated with legacy systems via Mulesoft.


6. Omni-channel Service

Why? When shoppers have an issue, grocers need to be on every channel to resolve customers’ issues quickly and efficiently, when and where they please.

What will it do? Inside their mobile app, shoppers can receive assistance from chatbots to resolve queries: for example, an out-of-stock product. When the query cannot be resolved by chatbots, it can be escalated to customer service agents who can view the shopper’s past purchase history, preferences, and address to suggest nearby stores where the product is in stock.

How can Salesforce work in the background?

  • Salesforce Chatbots: Chatbots on various channels, including mobile apps, websites, and social media, to help guide customers with queries.

  • Case Management: Automatic case creation for situations that need to be escalated.


7. Cashierless Checkout


Why? More than 70% of shoppers are using touchless, robust self-checkout options, or shopping at frictionless micro-markets. Amazon Go’s cashierless technology will likely push many grocery retailers to match this level of convenience.

What will it do? Frictionless, cashierless payment with mobile apps or digitally-enabled loyalty cards linked to customers’ bank accounts.

How can Salesforce work in the background?

  • POS + Loyalty integration: Integrating POS from cashierless systems with loyalty card data and customer profiles using Mulesoft real-time.


For digital grocers, the present landscape provides the perfect opportunity to integrate technologies such as Salesforce Commerce Cloud and engage with customers in exciting new ways.

To find out how COVID-19 will continue to transform shopping in the long term, view our Salesforce Research survey. And to learn more about how businesses can navigate the current crisis, check out our Leading Through Change series.