MARKET | Apr 7, 2020

A growth in mass retailing and a boom in e-commerce: food expenditure during the Coronavirus

How can digital technology support the new shopping habits generated by the pandemic emergency?

“In order to respond to disasters, it is necessary to be able to create a new order linked to new behaviors. This is what is also at the basis of society’s resilience. Once the pandemic is over, things will no longer be as they were before, not even for the world of large-scale food retail which has seen an e-commerce boom in recent weeks as a result of the social distancing measures”.

Federico Dell’Acqua, CEO of Digitelematica, tries to imagine the restart after the COVID-19 emergency ends, describing how some behaviors will change and with them the digital technologies we use.

How will we change the way we shop?

“I am coinvinced – Dell’Acqua continues – that we will have to imagine new ways of shopping that can support new lifestyle habits. We’ll have to get used to the idea that people will change the way they organize their supermarket shopping and will probably keep the habit of avoiding close contact with others as much as possible. For this reason, self-scanning mechanisms and smart carts will certainly increase, since they allow the user to choose products and pay without having to go through the manned check-out”.

This service, according to Digitelematica’s privileged observatory, will be among those which will have to be implemented soon, both in large and small retail channels.

“Self-scanning – adds Dell’Acqua – will become even more interesting for the user as it will add the data that we have already entered to the supermarket’s range of products, in order to increase the information concerning the products available through e-commerce. By simply framing an object, it will be possible to find out its ingredients and supply chain, to visualize a recipe we can try or to be guided along our path in the supermarket in order to buy another product that goes well with what we are buying.

Product georeferencing advice given through profiling the user who is shopping and faster product purchasing will make self-scanning something indispensable already in the coming months. A prediction we think we can make, since during these weeks in some stores 50% of the transactions was carried out through self-scanning”.

Will the introduction of self-scanning free up human resources in supermarkets?

“When it comes to self-scanning   – explains Dell’Acqua – most people think that this will cause some people to be laid off in the store. This is absolutely not true, as the very introduction of self-scanning requires other activities, such as entering additional product information or more marketing-oriented activities. As always, the introduction of digital technologies does not replace people, but allows them to be used in a different way, often with value-added roles”.

How has shopping changed in recent weeks?

“In practical terms, – points out Maurizio Pecori, Head of Engineering’s Industry Divisionthe emergency has done what years of marketing work have been trying to do in order to push e-commerce.

Since the last week of February, not to mention March, there has been a real increase in online shopping demand of roughly 500-600%, with the peaks in daily registrations of platform users which, in the pre-pandemic period could reach a few hundred, now jumping to 14,000.

Requests for home deliveries have also doubled from one day to the next and this has put the logistics system under stress, as it was certainly not prepared for all this, so much so that delivery times have necessarily lengthened and, in a few cases, have been suspended due to the impossibility of meeting this new demand. In the meantime, of course, retailers have reorganized by adding new logistics centers or by increasing those they already had, often redeploying the staff previously employed in the store to useful activities to support the e-commerce”.

How can digital technology come to the rescue of the large-scale retailers who are currently facing this increased demand?

“We are working on many applications and services requested by retailers – continues Pecori –  such as those that allow to best deal with a fixed number of users in a store or others which allow the user to avoid queues outside the shop.

In addition to this, e-commerce platforms will increasingly manage not only the part concerning the sales of the products, but also everything which concerns the logistics and warehousing aspects, given that e-commerce becomes convenient only when you have the possibility to fulfill orders in a certain way, i.e. by being able to choose, thanks to digital media, the most convenient and fastest logistics service for a specific delivery. A great deal of work will be carried out on tools capable of arranging and picking up products from warehouses in an increasingly automated and intelligent way.

Because nothing will be the same as before and the digital world will have to support this change”.