CHICAGO -- When it comes to retail technology, players outside of the convenience-store channel largely dominated the headlines this year.
Online retailers opened physical stores while brick-and-mortar retailers of all stripes have poured more resources into their digital offerings than ever before. The very idea of convenience is shifting to a more mobile-focused world, where the level of service is defined by what a retailer can provide at the click of a button. Meanwhile, experts urged retailers to view social media not only as a marketing tool but as a way to better know and engage with customers.
Here are five tech developments that turned heads in 2017 …
1. Kum & Go’s social-media strategy
In May, Mike Templeton, marketing manager of Kum & Go LC, West Des Moines, Iowa, shared some of his tips for best social-media practices in an exclusive interview with CSP Daily News. Here are some of the highlights:
- Win on social media by including video in posts.
- Don’t just jump on what’s trending, but create your own voice and stick to it.
- Facebook gives you “the most bang for your buck.”
- If you wouldn’t say something to a customer in a store, you probably shouldn’t post it online.
- Social media is not about reaching more people, it’s about reaching the right people.
- Check out "If This, Then That" (iftt.com) to manage social-media accounts across platforms.
CSP followed up by writing about changes at Lou Perrine’s Gas & Grocery in Kenosha, Wis., based on data gleaned from Facebook.
2. Walmart’s tech-focused store
In February, Walmart opened a new Supercenter near Houston designed to test some of the mega-retailer’s tech-forward ideas.
The location was Walmart’s third to offer what it calls scan-and-go shopping, which gives shoppers the ability to scan items as they shop, allowing them to bypass the checkout line. The store also included a pickup services area for car-side delivery, the first Chobani cafe outside of New York and more.
This move from one of America’s most recognizable big-box retailers precluded a year of disruptive actions, most meant to combat Walmart’s main rival: Amazon.
3. 'Hey Alexa, buy Whole Foods Market'
Back in June, the entire world of retail shook when e-retailer Amazon agreed to purchase Whole Foods Market for $13.7 billion.
CSP reached out to experts from across the convenience-retail industry to get their take on the move, and everyone was shocked. Many predicted that the move would help Whole Foods shed its "Whole Paycheck" image, which it has made some strides toward. Others said that it could completely change the way consumers think of retail.
Whole Foods Market has started selling select Amazon technology products and made a few other minor changes to its stores, and more changes are likely on the way.
4. M&A possibilities
Shortly after Amazon announced its purchase of Whole Foods Market, imaginations started running wild with M&A possibilities.
Specifically, suggestions ranged from Facebook buying 7-Eleven to Amazon purchasing Dollar General next. The deal between Amazon and Whole Foods had yet to be finalized when this article was written, so it also floated the possibility that other retailers could have released competing bids for Whole Foods.
5. Tesla, the retailer
In November, Elon Musk became a convenience retailer. Tesla opened two 40-stall Supercharger stations in Kettleman City and Baker, Calif., marking an important milestone for both Tesla and the efficacy of electric vehicles (EVs) as a viable consumer vehicle.
While the Tesla c-stores bear a closer resemblance to members-only lounges than c-stores, they could be a preview of what EV-focused c-stores might look like in the future.