Editor’s note: This is Part 2 of a special series sponsored by Par Technologies Corp. Read Part 3 on Sept. 18.

Within this decade, food retailers can expect a significant uptick in grocery shoppers using their smartphones to put food in virtual shopping carts, says recent research by The Nielsen Company and Food Marketing Institute (FMI).

“Today, grocery is at that 20 percent penetration tipping point. With that, and given that consumers are already primed to shop online, we expect grocery to reach saturation within the next ten years, if not sooner,” says findings from FMI’s “The Digitally Engaged Food Shopper” report.

While 20 percent may not seem significant, it represents $100 billion in annual consumer sales, pushing a potential 40 percent of brick and mortar stores to an online base.

According to FMI researchers, “Any ten-year-plan that does not have the digitally engaged food shopper at its core is going to miss out on the massive opportunity that this seismic shift will bring.”

However, while online retail continues to grow, a significant number of shoppers use multiple methods to make purchases, including online shopping carts, mobile apps and storefronts. A common method of maintaining a consistent shopping experience through these multiple platforms is omnichannel.

Real-time importance
For fresh food retailers, one of the most challenging components of omnichannel is keeping real-time inventory to deliver on purchase promises to shoppers. According to Chris Warry of Digital Pulse, an Australian e-commerce consultant firm, full visibility of stock is essential in making it cost-effective to run a “bricks to clicks” shopping platform.

“Here lies a problem. Traditional live inventory systems have been efficient at raising the bar on accuracy but, in today’s complex retailing world, that’s not enough,” he shares. “Maintaining traditional live inventory in a chaotic store environment introduces data integrity and data timeliness issues.”

For example, returns, cancelled orders and change of delivery times can not only be an inventory nightmare, but an increased food safety risk in the fresh food business. To combat these issues and maintain an eye in the sky to not only track inventory, but monitor shipping conditions, many retailers are looking towards radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology to help them deliver efficiently and safely on their promise.

“The key for retailers that are still unsure about whether to adopt RFID is to perhaps focus less on end-to-end productivity, and more on supporting individual stores to drive customer growth through click-and-collect, ship from store, and innovations such as real-time advertising,” Warry concludes. “With customers now browsing virtually and looking to shop locally, they will inevitably spend their money with those than can deliver.”

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