Smart new kids on the block are using technology to make grocery shopping the local and personal experience it once was.

When I was a child, shopping for groceries was a local and personal affair. We walked with our housewife mothers to Sainsbury’s on the high street, and were served by staff in white aprons with their hair in a net (the net today has rather different connotations). They stood behind displays of food, made much more enticing by the end of wartime rationing in 1954.

The advent of the supermarkets, that same decade, made our purchasing of provisions an increasingly impersonal experience. Self-service became the norm, with more prosaic “serve-over counters” consigned to the periphery.

And it became less and less local too, with ever larger stores opening ever further away from the high street.

For the next five decades, economies of scale and technological innovation were the driving forces of super/hypermarket development.

A proliferation of SKUs, all barcoded bar none, in hierarchical ranges and architectural price structures, were stocked along runways of aisles in giant sheds, whose vernacular proscenium facades were designed to make us feel at home but supposedly enjoy the experience of going out.

It was the epoch of EPoS, culminating in the last vestiges of personal service, at the checkout, being sacrificed now on the altar of self-scanning.

“Consumers are now more empowered than ever but ecommerce, depersonalises the shopping experience”

Micahel Poynor, Retail Expertise

It was the era when retailers and suppliers ran the show as a double act: burgeoning private-label ranges for the leading supermarket chains; lucrative slotting allowances for the FMCG multinationals.

Consumers are now more empowered than ever but ecommerce, not least for food, depersonalises the shopping experience, turning us into domestic automata served by robots and drones.

Appetising app

But there are smart new kids on the block that are using technology to help us get personal again; such as Grability (one of Intel’s proclaimed most innovative young companies in 2013).

It is personalising online grocery shopping for leading retailers such as El Corte Inglés in Spain, Reliance in India and Cencosud in Chile, and shortly other major retailers around the world.

Grability has jettisoned the boring old online grocery shop and created an appetising app that visually resembles all the best bits of the actual in-store shopping experience, more closely than any of the pure-play or omnichannel operators. It only lacks a scratch ‘n’ sniff facility for one really to wake up and smell the coffee.

It creates dynamic, personalised store layouts that reconfigure themselves automatically to individual shoppers’ preferences and shopping history.

Grability has transformed m-commerce into my-commerce: all one’s favourite products, lined up side by side, on a digital gondola end. No more fruitless traipsing along physical aisles or scrolling down endless lists. And it can all be done from where one feels most at home.

Fulfilment is the driving decision, so to speak. Do we click-and-collect or await the van man to arrive? But smart devices, and the smart guys at Grability, have made the point of grocery purchase a personal and local affair again. Sainsbury’s et al should embrace this with alacrity (though lord knows what mother would say).

  • Michael Poynor, founder and managing director, Retail Expertise

To read more from our personalisation special click on the below links

The best examples of how retailers are customising shopper experiences

How to strike the right balance between cool and creepy

Watch: Find out what is coming next in personalisation

A selection of the best-in-class bespoke products

Why retailers should invest in personalisation and how to measure success

Why retailers are personalising customer loyalty schemes