PITTSBURGH — The global COVID-19 health crisis may have stymied some business and economic growth in 2020. However, it did not stall the retail technology evolution. In fact, it had the opposite effect, and there are no signs that the momentum is going to stop throughout 2021.
"We are still thinking about innovation. COVID, the crisis, the pandemic and some of the pressures we faced on demand in our industry have not slowed our enthusiasm for innovation in technology and trying new things. We are full steam ahead over here at GetGo," said Rug Phatak, chief of staff and senior director of marketing for GetGo Café + Market, the convenience store arm of Pittsburgh-based Giant Eagle Inc. "Has COVID dampened our innovative spirit? Absolutely not. If anything, we are doubling down."
Similar to what other convenience retailers experienced, the pandemic led GetGo customers to step up their adoption of new technologies and therefore, led the c-store retailer to accelerate some initiatives like mobile ordering and curbside pickup.
"Those are things we already had in the pipeline before the pandemic — and we're glad we did — but we've certainly seen adoption rise as folks wanted to be safe and have less contact with people," Phatak noted.
This year, GetGo will continue to focus on solutions that not only improve the customer experience, but also give the retailer greater capabilities — whether that is reducing labor or improving in-stock positions.
Several initiatives are already in the works, one being digital cooler door screens. GetGo teamed up with Chicago-based Cooler Screens about a year ago and has been piloting its technology in five stores for the past few months. The solution takes a traditional cold vault door and replaces it with a digital screen that features pricing and a planogram.
When a customer walks by the cooler door, a marketing message, like a video, takes over and when the customer gets closer to the door, the message turns off and a cooler planogram appears. The customer can explore the door, see what they want, view the prices, and see the current promotions available, Phatak explained.
"For the customer, cooler screens create a vibrant, dynamic and rich media experience. Customers can clearly see items they are looking for and there are no worries about labels being turned one way or bottles tilting," he said.
For the retailer, cooler screens allow for improved capabilities and improved data. "The digital media content allows us to partner with vendors to create content and promotions. It opens the door for monetization opportunities," Phatak noted. "It also helps us with dynamic price changes and dynamic content changes. Going digital helps make price changes across the portfolio."
The cooler screens also have a camera facing into the cold vault, so GetGo has been able to start gathering data on out-of-stock positions. "It allows us to root out issues — whether it is DSD or our own warehouse — to improve the in-stock position and ultimately drive more sales, making sure that the product the customer wants is there and available," he added.
Touchless Payment Options
Also in-store, GetGo is partnering with Grabango to pilot its contactless and frictionless technology, similar to Amazon Go, at one Pittsburgh store. "It really gets customers in and out fast and reduces their interaction with the team members," Phatak pointed out.
For retailers, the system has cameras that are watching the shelf, so it helps the c-store operator with better in-stock positions and advances theft-intervention efforts.
"We are just starting baby steps with this; we launched in September. It's very new technology and we are working with the Grabango team on the technology and, more importantly, on operations to figure out how it works best for us and the c-store industry," said Phatak. "It's emerging technology we are really excited about. We are anxious to see what we learn and how we can scale.”
Accelerated adoption of new technologies is happening on the forecourt, too.
GetGo is rolling out Invenco Pay-at-Pump terminals and cloud-based iNFX forecourt microservices across its store network to offer customers a media experience during the four or five minutes it takes to fuel up their vehicle. The new terminals also feature touchscreens, and allow for future capabilities such as ordering fresh food at the pump for pickup in the store or delivery to the pump. Additionally, the new equipment helps GetGo comply with the outdoor EMV compliance deadline.
"For the retailer, it gives us the opportunity to partner with our vendors to leverage dynamic content. It also unlocks touchless payment, so as part of the Invenco terminal upgrade, we will be installing their near-field readers. As you can imagine, because of the pandemic, this is a key feature customers are looking for at the pump," Phatak said.