F&B Hotlist
A High-Low Service Landscape

Convenience clashes with a desire for connection as tech and humans face off to compete for the future of service. This month’s F&B Hotlist explores the changing service landscape and considers how F&B brands can define a service proposition that’s right for them.

Above and Beyond Service

With convenience a key factor in modern-customer decision making, grocery stores are adapting their propositions to deliver service that stands out from competitors. Taking the convenience of delivery to the next level, Walmart has unveiled plans to add an in-home option to its grocery delivery service. Currently trialling across three cities, the service will be available to customers with a Walmart-installed smart lock on their home. To further diminish security concerns, delivery staff will wear cameras at all times to monitor their activity.

From at-home service to in-store experience, UK grocer Morrisons is launching a new service at fresh food counters nationwide, ‘we’ll weigh what you need’. This timely initiative not only links to the current bid to cut food waste, it also revitalises the role of the in-store butchers, fishmongers and deli specialists. It elevates in-store staff expertise and breathes new life and meaning into staff-customer interactions.

From Brand To Host

Many retailers are rethinking the role of their staff in store, taking inspiration from hospitality brands to provide a hosted experience for customers.  Bricks and mortar is the ideal setting to forge an emotional connection with customers. One retailer looking to create emotional engagement is Wegmans. Its Wkids programme, provided a free babysitting service for parents while grocery shopping. Despite recently winding this service down, from 27 stores at its peak, Wegmans will instead host Family Experiences in store, from yoga to baking to story time.

From hosted experiences to the fast-casual landscape, after the explosion of low-service dining, many eateries are struggling in a competitive market. Hai Di Lao Hotpot is a Sichuan hot pot chain aiming to set itself apart with freebies galore. With long waits for tables common amongst Asian eateries, Hai Di Lao aims to entertain customers throughout their visit, free manicures while waiting, to games of mahong and birthday surprises. Despite these generous gestures, current execution feels at-odds with the dining experience. With the international chain set to enter the London market in 2019 it will be interesting to see how these value-added moments translate into a newly invigorated brand experience.

The New Self Service

On the flip side, many retailers are moving away from face-to-face service, as new tech solutions drive a self-service revolution. With 88% of customers seeking a faster checkout process (DigitMark, 2017) it’s not surprising that brands are innovating their payment processes and systems for speed and efficiency.

Sainsbury’s is giving customers more ways to pay with its SmartShop app. The self-checkout app is available in select stores across the country, allowing customers to scan items and checkout on their phones using Google or Apple Pay. The grocer has taken this commitment to self-service to the next level in one London store, removing checkouts entirely. Whilst just a small-format trial for now, Sainsbury’s innovation sits amongst the likes of Amazon Go as an indication of the potential future of grocery shopping.

However, the eradication of checkouts is not without critics, and rightly so. Looking beyond the tech-savvy millennial or digitally-native Gen Z, many people still enjoy, or even rely on, their food shop for much needed human interaction. From new-parents popping to the shop, to elderly customers picking up their daily paper, customers still love a bit of friendly checkout chat to brighten their day.

One grocer striving to find a balance between human service and automation is Coop Danmark. The Danish grocer is taking a one-app approach to in-store efficiency. Combining customer-facing functions like self-checkout and a gamified loyalty scheme, with staff-enabling features from in-store picking to price mark downs. So far it has been a hit with both customers and staff, with app using customers 16 per cent more satisfied than non-users, and staff time being switched from mundane operations tasks to delivering value-adding face-to-face customer service.

The future of service is not a one size fits all solution. Despite the current buzz around automation, face-to-face service is alive and kicking and brands just consider what end of the spectrum they want to be on. Real consideration of the customer, their mission and the format will all influence the right balance of tech and human service for F&B brands.

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Images courtesy of Walmart, Amy Newman/NorthJersey.com and Household

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