Driving Digital Strategy: The future shape of the supermarket industry

This entry has been born out of reading the book; Driving Digital Strategy, by Sunil Gupta. It has made me realise just how under-served we are by the supermarket industry. Most of us would agree that we spend much too much time buying groceries, it’s tedious, and with today’s technology, it’s not necessary…


First off, some notes on the book itself. I found it quite effective at making me see things from different angles, notably from the eyes of the customer. It touches a lot on ‘marketing myopia’, something everyone should be aware of; the nature of your business is not what you supply (e.g. groceries), it is what customer needs that you solve (e.g feeding a family) It also inspired me to write the previous blog article below. So it really is the book that keeps on giving:

Digital transformation in the aerospace industry… Really??

What has also inspired this article is a case study and strategy assignment that our class completed for M&S Simply Food. This got me onto the train of thought described below. Hopefully, from me writing this down, it will actually happen; and grocery shoppers will live happily ever after.


If you consider the average supermarket, and the average grocery shopper, you could be forgiven to think that the consumer has it quite easy. The supermarket advertising slogans would certainly have you believe that this is the case: ‘Every little helps’, ‘Live well for less’, ‘save money, live better’. In truth however, I am yet to meet someone who looks forward to their local shopping trip, or wrestling their shopping all the way home from the supermarket. Of course, there is online shopping, this is a step in the right direction, but not enough.


Most shopping trips, or online shopping sprees, start with an inventory check, then a mental note of the household’s upcoming schedule, followed by some sort of meal planning, before any shopping can start. All of this is unnecessary. It is certainly not beyond today’s technology that a supermarket can offer you a service whereby purchases are recorded in a personalized inventory profile. Then, as you use items for cooking, a quick scan of you phone onto the bar-code could allow you to update your stock levels. If you add to this a facility where you can store your favourite recipes, rather than shopping per item, you can update your shopping list automatically from what you intend to cook. Going another step further, what is stopping recipe books from having bar codes against their recipes, so that you can scan these and add these to your shopping list?

download (1)

Once we have this level of service, the supermarket chains can really start living up to their promises. A family on a budget? A simple algorithm can take your current home food stocks, and suggest meals that will require the minimum spend in order to make up meals. Alternatively the same algorithm can take your shopping list made from the meals you have selected, and offer savings from suggesting similar but cheaper alternatives. Have children? Special diet needs? Perhaps you are training for a marathon, or need a high protein diet? Once again why can’t you tell your online shopping platform these requirements so that it can offer you improvements to your manual shopping list. Netflix and Amazon have been suggesting films considering our viewing patterns for years, so supermarkets should be able to offer alternative meals similar to those that we regularly cook, but cheaper and / or more healthy.

asda slogan

The above covers the bare necessities, now how about living up to the promise of helping us to ‘live better’? Having a sales channel online is all very well, but considering that food makes up such a big part of our everyday lives, the supermarkets really are missing a trick by not offering us much more than this.

For instance, cookery programs are one of the most popular genres on television, following in Amazon’s footsteps, supermarkets could quite easily offer cookery programs that are matched with shopping list options on line. These could be viewed live in the evenings, offering interactive content where viewers can send in pictures and feedback of their experiences while following the celebrity chef. Or they can be streamed at your convenience at a later date. Do you have children? Why not tune in to a special children’s show that encourages children to help you cook the evening meal? Thus getting them used to cooking and embracing a healthy lifestyle. Also, why not let shoppers suggest meals to be cooked by celebrity chefs, offering an interactive relationship between the customer and the supermarket.


Alternatively, why not have a quiet night in with your partner where you both get stuck in to a live cookery show? Supermarkets could go even further here, offering live Master Chef style competitions, where customers can apply and compete in live cookery competitions. Us at home can try and emanate their recipes while we watch the shows, and perhaps the competition winners can get a regular slot on one of the cooking channels? Customers could also write in to suggest meals that they would like to see cooked by celebrity chefs.

postman pat

With Amazon having a JV with Morrison’s and purchasing both Whole Foods and Deliveroo, and Ocado soon to offer delivery times of one hour, it looks like one trend will be to offer grocery shopping at late notice. This will certainly help add a little variety and flexibility to our lives, if we can receive a healthy and quick to cook food option, as an alternative to a sloppy takeaway, then I for one will be happy. However, these delivery facilities should also be utilised to deliver parcels and other online shopping to your door. Online shopping does offer you delivery time flexibility that you can’t get else where, you are often able to fix the delivery to a one hour time slot. If you could get all of your parcels delivered at the same time as your shopping, meaning you avoid the frustrating ‘we couldn’t deliver your parcel because your were out’ note pushed through your letterbox. Wouldn’t this be great?

happy shopper

These are just some of the many improvements that supermarkets can offer to their customers. However, I’m sure you get the idea. As for supermarkets themselves, there must be a first mover advantage for implementing stuff like this. Will it come from Amazon; the customer obsessed behemoth? Or will the incumbents come to their senses and get there first? Only time will tell, but I know who I would place my bets on…


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