Retail for independent grocers will experience lasting, permanent affects due to the impacts of COVID-19. Shopper behavior, supply chain, and technology are just a few of the critical areas of retail that will be shaped differently post-crisis. Independent grocers have a competitive advantage over retail giants with their ability to remain agile and flexible, and can continue to quickly adapt to the ever-changing retail landscape, providing exceptional customer service to their communities alongside supportive partners that have their best interest in mind.
In this expert panel, the leaders of two of the most recognized organizations associated with independent grocery retailers come together to bring their insights, inspiration, and industry expertise to ECRS’ virtual conference, Ignite 2020. Greg Ferrara, President & CEO of the National Grocers Association (NGA), and John Ross, President & CEO of the Independent Grocers Alliance (IGA), join Stephanie Reid, President of Shelby Publishing Co., to discuss the current competitive landscape and opportunities for independent retailers.
Relationships & Community Matter
Both IGA and NGA have a core belief: that community matters.
Both IGA and NGA have a core belief: that community matters. Their missions intertwine, offering independent, family-owned retailers the opportunity to succeed through education, partnerships, and advocacy, so that those independents can support their local community.
“What really has come out of this is that relationships matter. Organizations like IGA and NGA and others that help bring trading partners together…those [relationships] are invaluable when a crisis happens,” said Greg Ferrara.
Shortening the Supply Chain
The discussion continues, expressing how those relationships, particularly with suppliers and manufacturers, can provide optimal support by shortening the supply chain so that independents can keep their shelves stocked with fresh, local product, even when larger national supermarket chains cannot.
John Ross comments, “…[I]f you go behind our store and you watch what’s coming in through the back, you’ll see the farmer there unloading the truck themselves, and the relationship between the farmer’s family and the IGA family may go back 35-40 years. …[t]he nature of local product is, in fact, a fresher and better product if you can squeeze that supply chain shorter. It doesn’t matter what’s true or not…what matters is consumers before COVID believe, sincerely, that big chains might be less healthy than a local chain.”
…what matters is consumers before COVID believe, sincerely, that big chains might be less healthy than a local chain.
E-commerce is Critical
Independents leveraged this competitive advantage of keeping fresh products in their store by offering an enhanced customer experience to their shoppers with e-commerce.
“There’s two ways to look at e-commerce…[a]nother way to think of it is as an extension of customer service. Because what the consumer is saying to us is, ‘I want to shop your store in a different way…I want to engage with you in a new way.’ And if we figure out how to serve them in a new way…they’ll stay loyal, they’ll stay engaged with us…,” says John Ross.
Incorporating an e-commerce strategy is critical in providing consumers a safe, enhanced shopping experience. When the crisis began, ECRS provided a program called the Fast Track WebCart Launch Program to support retailers so that they could quickly implement e-commerce and meet consumer demands. This program is ongoing and has proven to be successful for independent retailers.
Regarding e-commerce, John Ross states, “What we’re finding is it is not too late. Stores that have signed up post-COVID are receiving shoppers at a high pace.”
But those independents who are doing really well with e-commerce today are doing well because they’re able to enhance that experience for their customer.
“Independents really need to figure their e-commerce strategy out… What I have seen during this entire crisis is those customers that were using e-commerce solutions through their independents had a much higher satisfaction rate than those who were using some of the other big national chains…matter of fact, you couldn’t even get a time slot with a lot of those folks, but you were able to get time slots in with the local store because they’re able to adjust… But those independents who are doing really well with e-commerce today are doing well because they’re able to enhance that experience for their customer,” Greg Ferrara elaborates.
Partnering with IGA, NGA, & ECRS Enhances Shopper Experiences
In summary, independent grocers have a strong advantage to thrive during this time of crisis and are in a unique position to do what they do best: serve their customers with fresh, local product, and do so with extraordinary customer service and a seamless shopping experience.