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Mike Troy, Editorial Director, Grocery Group

President of Relationshop explains how a new definition of convenience is key to engaging with shoppers and driving data monetization

The pandemic has accelerated adoption of all things digital over the past 18 months. The surge of e-commerce created new digital engagement and monetization opportunities for retailers of food and consumables, but also fueled uncertainty about the optimal path forward. To make sense of the rapidly evolving digital world, Progressive Grocer spoke with Randy Crimmins, a 25-year retail loyalty and digital marketing executive who has recently taken on the role of president and chief customer officer at Relationshop, a Magnolia, Texas-based provider of personalized digital engagement and commerce solutions.

Progressive Grocer: What does it mean to be a provider of personalized digital engagement and commerce solutions?

Randy Crimmins: Everyone has a different perception of what personalization means. To us, it’s about how do we make the shopping experience, the digital experience for the shopper, more convenient, more curated, more relevant and more valuable to them as an individual. If we’re not driving value and convenience, then we’re probably not being very effective on behalf of the retailer. We know the metrics important to grocers are sales, transactions and basket size. We make sure that whatever we’re doing and however we define personalization, it’s to support those fundamental metrics.

PG: Are there other metrics you’re looking at further upstream in the shopper’s path to purchase that are indicators that a retailer is on the right track with sales, transactions and basket size?

RC: Customer data is the foundation of personalization and how you ultimately measure the performance and the value of personalization within the experience. We focus on incrementality and what are we adding that drives incremental behavior, whether that is a purchase or a trip. We do that by looking at the incremental impact of a retailer’s digital engagement and personalization activities. Incrementality is key.

PG: Let’s talk more about convenience. How shoppers define convenience can vary widely. How are you thinking about making shopping more convenient?

RC: Traditionally, convenience was about proximity to the store. And if you look at the top reasons why people shop in store, it is convenience and value or savings. Those drivers of consumer choice haven’t really changed. However, the definition of convenience has moved beyond proximity, because in the digital world, convenience is how easy do you make it for me to shop with you? For example, with the mobile apps we design for clients, it is all about creating less friction, whether shopping in store or online. This blended shopping experience is really the new definition of convenience.

PGAs an industry veteran, you’ve seen a huge increase in the types of shopper data that is available as well as how it is used, with increased targeting, personalization, being the biggest change. Would you agree?

RC: I started out as a direct marketer, and a lot of those fundamentals still apply today. In the pre-digital world, direct mail was the only channel available to reach individual consumers, but the principles – targeting, segmentation, predictive analytics – are still relevant. That has made it easier for direct marketers to transition to the digital world, where we are fulfilling the vision of engaging with shoppers on an individual basis in real time. It is a good time to be a marketer.

PG: What if I’m a retailer that doesn’t have an extensive loyalty program or a lot of first-party data? Where do I begin to do the types of things you’re talking about?

RC: What we tell retailers when they ask us that same question is to start where you are. Think about all the different ways that you engage with your customers and to what degree you engage with them. Do you have email? Have you started an email opt-in program? Do you have e-commerce? If you have e-commerce, then you have a one-to-one relationship with customers and a way of identifying them as individual customers. Do you have digital coupons and phone numbers to be able to connect digital coupons to an account?

PGA retailer’s ability to personalize is dependent on the data they are able to accumulate about an individual, but the regulatory environment around data collection and privacy is constantly shifting.

RC: Retailers have to be very considerate and intentional about how they evaluate privacy concerns. Even without the regulations concerning personally identifiable information, trust and transparency are essential. Retailers have to effectively explain the benefits of sharing information and the value proposition for the shopper, and say, “If you do this, we’re going to do this, and when we do that, we’re going to be very responsible with how we use your data, and we’re not going to share your data, we’re not going to sell your data.”

PG: The retailer as a media platform is a phenomenon that has gained a lot of traction with the surge of digitally engaged shoppers. What’s the opportunity look like for grocers?

RC: Grocery is often viewed as somewhat of a laggard when it comes to maximizing digital opportunities, but the sector is quickly catching up. That’s why you are seeing a lot of companies coming into the space, whereas other retail channels have been monetizing their digital footprint for some time. The opportunity for grocers is huge. They are experts at monetizing the in-store experience and the shelf space, but as they’ve moved it to digital, in some cases, there is no monetization at all. We’ve had a lot of conversations with grocers about the opportunity for monetization, and we emphasize that they can control what advertising and promotions customers see.

PG: The word monetization can have a negative connotation for suppliers, but what we’re really talking about is driving sales through better targeting, yes?

RC: That’s what it should be about — what makes sense for the customer. Retailers own the digital platform and have the data, just like they own their stores, so it is about leveraging the data and insights to personalize the experience. When we work with retailers, we try to impress upon them that this is a significant opportunity for them to really control their business, to manage it strategically, to understand it digitally, and then to monetize it.

PG: If you were at a retailer today, looking some of new shopping behaviors and the sources of data generated, what would you be most excited about?

RC: What I’m most excited about is the opportunity to stitch it all together to gain a truly holistic view of the entire shopper behavior. The ability to track that journey is what is most exciting about where we’re at today, and then in the future to engage in real time based on that activity. There are so many exciting things happening in this space, and the pandemic accelerated everything, but retailers are at different points along the path. The key is to really understand where you are and what is needed to get to where you ultimately want to go.