Farhan Siddiqi on how COVID-19 is accelerating innovation

Ahold Delhaize’s Chief Digital Officer Farhan Siddiqi spoke recently at an online The Next Web Checkout Couch Conference event focused on exploring how retailers can adopt new strategies and technologies to navigate these challenging times. Farhan talked about how COVID-19 is accelerating change in the food retail industry and what Ahold Delhaize is doing to transform our company as a result.

He said the impact of COVID-19 has been very different for food retailers than other nonessential businesses. “Our challenge was how to keep up with demand that spiked across all channels. In some of our major banners we had 500 times the normal online traffic, and we had to figure out how to serve these customers.

While food retail has traditionally lagged in its adoption of eCommerce, the situation is changing. “Even three months ago, people predicted that eCommerce penetration would taper off in the high teens in the next five to seven years, causing retailers to question investing in this channel. But now, all the scenario models have changed –appetite and openness to online shopping have transformed – it’s quite inspiring! 

Farhan outlined the many ways we’ve worked to create a safe environment in our stores, where the bulk of our sales still happen, and discussed how COVID-19 is affecting the customer journey. “Convenience and value will continue to be the two most important value propositions, with hygiene and health emerging as a third.” As the customer journey becomes more digital, data-driven and personalized, he said that everything we do so is becoming more connected, automated and real time. And the pace of change has grown exponentially faster. “The time horizon in which we make decisions, act, take risks and launch products to market has shrunk from months to weeks now.”

The trend towards contactless shopping is being accelerated by COVID-19. “We’ve seen self-checkout spike to almost 50% of our transactions, and I believe we’ll see small format autonomous stores – the holy grail of contactless shopping – going to market faster than anyone expected. We’re looking at guide paths in the stores, cleaning robots, and even starting to think about scheduled shopping and how to be more transparent with customers about how many people are in a store in a more systematic way.”

Farhan talked about how technology can help with one of the major barriers to online shopping: customers don’t always trust other people to pick their products. “We’re looking at algorithms that will help us communicate with customers about substitutions during the packing process. Faster delivery – same day within two hours – will also help.” He mentioned we’re even looking at geofencing and advanced payment systems to make click and collect more contactless. “Also, how do we make delivery at your door contactless? These are the innovations that will build trust with customers.” Farhan believes this trust will ensure trend toward online shopping continues after the COVID-19 crisis. “These are fundamental shifts that will change the paradigm in this industry.”

 

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