Customization crucial at Loblaw and M&M

Retail executives discuss the importance of data and AI during RCC's Store conference

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Customization, unrelenting industry change and the future importance of data and artificial intelligence were key topics of a senior executive panel discussion at Retail Council of Canada’s Store conference in Toronto late last month.

Titled, “Transformation for today’s consumer,” the panel included  Sarah Davis, president of Loblaw Companies Limited, Allan MacDonald, executive vice-president, retail, for Canadian Tire Corporation and Andy O’Brien, chief executive officer and president of M&M Food Market.

“For us, we spend a lot of time trying to figure out customization and personalization for our customers,” said Davis. “We have 13 million Canadians part of [PC Optimum] and making sure the offers they get each week are as customized as they can be that’s definitely our goal at Loblaw.”

READ: What will the grocery store of the future look like?

In a lot of ways, technology has made the shopping experience easier, but it has also increased customer expectations. This was an oft-repeated observation during the two-day conference. And, at the heart of what drives the personalized offers that help build customer loyalty–and hopefully basket size–is data and AI.

Personalization is equally just as important to M&M Food Markets, which in recent years has made a number of changes to its products and stores based on extensive consumer research. O’Brien said M&M has been capturing consumer data since 2000 and has grown its database to 9 million Canadians, 3.5 million active users and 1.6 million emails.

“For us, a one-to-one relationship is absolutely critical,” he said. Two years ago M&M partnered with a California-based artificial intelligence firm to help craft multi-tiered and personalized communications to the M&M database, he said.

READ: Fresh ideas to improve the online grocery shopping experience

Artificial intelligence can be a time-consuming, complicated and expensive undertaking, but necessary to keep up with the competition as well as consumer demand, especially when you’re looking to connect with elusive millennials.

“I don’t think you have a choice,” said O’Brien on artificial intelligence. “It’s where data is taking you. Millennials want experiences and to connect with them on a different level is something we all have to look toward. You need to find a way to connect with them.”

And, when devising a plan, it’s important a retailer forge its own path, said Canadian Tire’s MacDonald. “It’s not about replicating, it’s about being competitive,” he said. “When you look at other companies for the answers you can step away.”