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The Grocery Store Now and Then: The More Things Change, The More They Stay the Same


The grocery store has changed dramatically over the past 40-odd years. I’ve remained cognizant of this constant evolution, but the transformation really hit me this past week, when I came across a feature on my former local neighborhood grocer in The New York Times.

The Fruit Man

Ninety-one-year-old John Cortese has worked at Brooklyn’s Golden Gate Fancy Fruits and Vegetables since his father opened the store in 1939. When I was younger, my siblings and I used to refer to Mr. Cortese as “the Fruit Man,” as he would graciously give us a sweet bunch of grapes, a delicious peach, or a soft plum whenever we visited his shop. Looking back, I can still feel the juices of the fruit run down my chin and onto my arm. In my mind, Mr. Cortese’s fruit tasted better than candy.

My mother – the Mrs. Governale mentioned in the NYT article – was extremely loyal to Golden Gate Fancy Fruit and Vegetables. In addition to enjoying the fruit that Mr. Cortese sold in his store, our family patronized his shop for meat, vegetables, pasta, and a variety of other items.

When my mother couldn’t physically make it into the store – single-car households were the norm in those days – we would arrange to have our groceries delivered to our home, a cornerstone of customer service in the ‘70s. My mother would simply pick up the rotary phone – the Internet of its day – and convey her grocery order to Mr. Cortese or another store clerk. A short while later, Dennis, our delivery boy, would show up with our desired items.

Home delivery was such a staple back in those days, we’d regularly receive visits from a number of other delivery services in our neighborhood, bearing a variety of delicious staples. In addition to the Fruit Man, there was the Fish Man, the Chicken Man, and, of course, the pre-dawn delivery from the Milkman.

The Impact of Technology on the Grocery Store Although the grocery industry is quite different than it used to be, one fact clearly hasn’t changed: Providing a superior customer service experience is imperative to achieving business success.

The difference between yesterday’s grocery stores and today’s grocery stores, however, is that modern-day grocers are leveraging the power of innovative technologies to better engage customers and create a competitive advantage. These solutions enable businesses to:

     : • Provide online ordering and in-store pickup

       • Create online banner ads that endorse particular items

       • Track customers throughout their online shopping journeys

       • Offer value-added subscription services

If your grocery store isn’t connecting with its customers – learning their preferences and meeting their expectations – it needs to start now. Customer engagement and commerce (CEC) solutions from SAP can help you achieve this, enabling you to better understand what products are selling, where they’re selling, and to whom they’re selling.

Customer service has been a priority in the grocery business for decades. And it will continue to be the key to success for years to come. Organizations are simply approaching customer service in new ways.

As the old expression goes, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” At the end of the day, superior customer service is all about creating convenience and cultivating loyalty. Customer loyalty, of course, comes from caring. And John the Fruit Man clearly cared.

As a technology company,  SAP works with some of the largest grocery brands globally to help them leverage technology to get closer to their customers.  To learn more about SAP’s strategy in grocery, join us at Retail’s Annual BIG SHOW – NRF 2016, January 17th – 20th in NYC, booth #1921, to learn more about this topic and how Digital Transformation is changing the retail landscape.  Check out the SAP NRF Resource Center to find the latest information on customer speakers, SAP’s Sunday Keynote Session, Showcases and networking opportunities.

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