Retail grocers are an integral part of an army now fighting the effects of COVID-19. With vital supplies threatened by supply chain and consumer behavior disruption, having the right data in the right place is critical to their success.

An army marches on its stomach. It’s simple. No great enterprise can succeed if its participants cannot meet their basic, physiological needs—in this case, food. In modern times, supplying that need requires a vast, complicated network of producers, distributors, and retailers—things that most of us rarely think about.

The army part of the metaphor is very apt. As of this writing, the entire world is engaged in a war against the novel coronavirus, and the disease it causes. As with all wars, there are front-line fighters (researchers, healthcare workers, and first responders), supporting forces, and civilians doing their part. In this particular war, a big part of the “supporting forces” are the grocery retailers we once took for granted.

Accelerated Change for Grocery Retailers

In a previous article, we outlined the shifts in consumer behavior pushing grocery retailers to alter their ways of doing business, including the rise of mobile shopping apps and innovative pickup or delivery options. But what was considered experimental a few short months ago has become mainstream almost overnight. Shopping convenience has been replaced by a more powerful motive.

Mobile shopping apps and pickup or delivery options, experimental a few months ago, have become mainstream almost overnight.

The sudden but very reasonable fear of infection has led to strict, disease-containment measures — not just masks, distancing, and one-way store aisles, but also a rush to online ordering, curbside pickup, and at-home delivery. One Comosoft client executive at a major chain noted recently that grocery pickup and deliveries had increased by 130% per week since mid-March. Senior store managers are working the floor alongside associates, busy filling orders for curbside pickup.

All this not a new phenomenon; it is simply a change in velocity. Mobile apps are no longer merely convenient; they are becoming essential.

It’s Still All About the Data

Back in the old days (as in last month), the process of grocery marketing was driven by vast, complex collections of data: product images, descriptions, prices, inventory, and marketing priorities. It still is. We published several articles describing how all these data can be effectively managed and channeled into printed and online media for the benefit of shoppers and retailers alike.

Today, however, those channels and the way we use them have shifted dramatically. Shoppers, focused on getting in and out quickly and efficiently, pay little or no attention to in-store flyers and circulars. By far, mobile shopping apps and, to a lesser extent, non-mobile websites have taken center stage in the grocery shopping experience.

A grocery mobile app needs to present all the available products and prices accurately and be ready to communicate changes when something is out of stock or limited to one item per customer.

The medium has shifted but the consumer need is still the same. Shoppers must find what they need, “see” it, estimate its value, and make a purchase decision. The grocery retailer’s mobile app needs to present all the available products, prices, and descriptions accurately—and be ready to communicate changes when something is out of stock or limited to one item per customer. Shopping apps are ideal for this, but only if all the data are effectively and efficiently utilized.

Digital Output

Fortunately, such data integration potential already exists, in systems such as LAGO. Data from multiple, often separately-developed DAM, PIM, and other databases can be effectively automated and coordinated to produce well-designed, multi-version printed pieces, using a plugin for Adobe InDesign. But print is only part of the story. LAGO also automates the output of overlays and XML data required by mobile shopping apps. Digital output for app use is automatic and, for the most part, can reach the consumer far faster than the more familiar printed circular.

This has enormous implications, not just for the immediate crisis but long afterwards. When there’s a sudden change in inventory for a particular household item, the retailer’s marketing team can rely on the mobile app — fed by new digital output — to inform and guide the consumer. Product marketing teams will still need to develop helpful and sensitive campaigns, but these will be aided rather than hindered by the flow of interrelated data.

In other words, the crisis has accelerated a trend that was already well under way: using truly integrated data to connect the needs of retailers and consumers alike. Companies that have already begun the integration journey are simply better prepared for the change in velocity.

The New Normal

Like all major crises, this one will someday be over. We will get back to normal, but “normal” itself will be different. People will once again enjoy social gatherings including, as trends indicate, at increasingly destination-oriented grocery retailers. The difference will be in how the retailer augments the total shopping experience using the available data.

Intelligent digital output will be the key to that experience — not just getting shoppers to buy the daily specials but also enhancing the consumer’s connection and loyalty to the brand. Whether the data are expressed in interactive kiosks, signage, interactive mobile apps, or even in a renaissance of printed collateral, their accuracy and relevance to individual shoppers will be paramount.

The future depends on digital output — and the preparedness of companies to use it wisely.