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Former Whole Foods CMO: reflecting on innovation in retail

retail mobile marketing retail mobile marketing
Photo credit:

Britt Reints 

Jeannine D'Addario featured as one of Hot Topics' top 100 retail marketers, having recognized the dynamism of the mobile channel, and utilized it within her marketing strategies.

The pace at which digital technologies have transformed the way we communicate with each other, and interact with brands, has dominated chatter between marketing teams over the past few years.

Mobile and digital channels have forced retailers to reconsider their efforts of engaging with new and existing customers, as well as their online offering compared to their traditional bricks-and-mortar establishments.

Even over two years, the impact of a digitally mature consumer had had repercussions on marketing strategies and their teams leading to a retail mobile engagement revolution.

So, as Jeannine D’Addario completes her tenure at Whole Foods Market as SVP and chief marketing officer, she considers the trends that she has had to initiate within the American organic supermarket chain and the legacy that that will bear for the future.

“The one [marketing] change I’ve had to make is personalizing the digital experience for the customer, which starts by understanding their transactional history with Whole Foods and working your way alongside their journey.”

Shopping and retail habits have changed drastically in a short space of time.

For one, the consumer journey isn’t just at the till point anymore, it begins with an initial interaction and continues on, in an almost limitless capacity.

And another, how consumers interact with retailers is now just as important a consideration as whether they decide to communicate or not.

The tool most people use nowadays either rests in their hands, or their pockets: the mobile.

Which directly influence the pace at which retail mobile engagement levels have grown.

The handheld digital platform is personalized by nature, swift and agile, convenient and now one of the main channels that Whole Foods experiences consumer traffic, aside from physical footfall, according to D’Addario.

“Typically, customers engage with us in the mobile space, so we’ve seen a significant increase in the use of the mobile device across all of our channels, so from our digital app to our website to even our CRM identification.”

Even when people are physically in-store, consumers are using their mobiles which presents further opportunity to engage with them there.

“Everything seems to come through or is leading more and more through the smart phone which means that we have to be there when they want us to be there, and it means that when you’re in our store, they often tend to be looking for information to expand that store experience by using their mobile device.”

The trend has, in short, quickly revolutionized how brands consider their relationship with consumers.

It presents a challenge operationally to convert existing strategies to something that more carefully considers digital and mobile channels, but brands are also discovering that this engagement is more sustainable to consumers, and, if done well, promotes brand loyalty.

Whole Foods too have noted the retail mobile engagement force.

“[Mobile] changes the information that the customer is looking for, one, to help their store experience and two, to be able to augment their store experience; we’ve been looking more in the delivery station mobile device, so you can get your groceries or your goods delivered in a short amount of time and not have to make a store visit, and that’s an augment to somebody who comes into the store regularly but just doesn’t have the availability to come out on a particular day.”

These interactions and improvements to the overall experience has provided depth to shopping, making your presence “more meaningful to a consumer.”

That customer journey requires analysis which attempts to understand what the consumer is interested in simply to make sure the products and services are aligned to “target the right messages to their interests, messages which are relevant and actionable.”

Further down the line, when D’Addario wanted to see how they participate with the information and offers they send, they “moved consumers down the stream of engagement” and past retail mobile engagement to begin the process of data analysis.

“What’s changed most within this space”, she concludes on the topic, “is the availability of transaction of data, and the availability of behavioural data on the customer at the digital level.”

Like many retailers at the moment, Whole Foods is having to react to changing consumer demands and behaviour, and then adapt their strategies and vision to make sure they remain aligned to their existing customer’s needs, as well encouraging new engagement from different demographics.

Personalization is one trend that attempts to bridge those challenges, but there are many, many more.

And as the past few years have marched towards a more complete digital picture, many retailers have had to look ahead to try and predict what the world will look like – and how to position themselves in it.

That foresight has had to include data analytics, as D’Addario articulates.

“It’s one thing being able to understand what data is going to look like, and setting up the organisation to be able to manage the data, but if your company can’t analyse it appropriately and respond accordingly, the data is worthless.”

Striking the balance between acquisition and analyses is how D’Addario thinks a brand can create and manage offers, loyalty programmes and points programmes.

However she didn’t start from scratch…

… “we started by better understanding our customers through our insights, building out a very strong and robust digital platform that’s a lot more responsive, engaging to the customer and allows them to search for information in their own landscapes.”

So in two short years D’Addario has had to predict and implement customer-centric marketing strategies because of the rise of retail mobile engagement, which Whole Foods and its marketing team will now have to continue to leverage and iterate these trends that will no doubt transform continually.