How is the Rise of E-Commerce Changing the Role of Physical Stores?

The rise of the internet has allowed food retailers to directly connect with consumers beyond the physical store, revolutionising this competitive space more than ever.

The world recently saw the acquisition of Whole Foods by Amazon, which sent shock waves through the retail industry. This unforeseen merger has put retailers under pressure more than ever to adapt to survive, but how exactly is e-commerce changing the role of physical stores in this data-driven industry?

“Authenticity, quality, human interaction, trust and transparency are the key roles of future food retailers. E-commerce will transform the point of sale, but the emotional part such as social interaction, dining and the story-telling of food will take pride of place in the physical store,” said Fabio Ziemssen, Head of Food Innovation & Food-Tech at Metro Group.

Social interaction, dining and the story-telling of food will take pride of place in the physical store of the future

Food is personal and emotional to consumers, and this necessary adaption for the future of retail could revolutionise the physical store – but what could it look like?

“The store of the future offers many possibilities to experience products in a multisensorial way and to immerse into a food cosmos. It will not only be the classical trade of physical goods, but also the production, processing and maturation of food the customer will experience. In addition, you will get advice on how to cook and to prepare food in a physical environment,” said Ziemssen.

What e-commerce lacks is emotion. And physical stores could leverage this, but instead of separating the two, bricks and mortar have already started to blend technology with a real-life experience, which is argued as the best of both ‘worlds’.

“In our stores in Friedrichshain and Antwerp for example we produce fresh herbs and microgreens direct at the point of sale. We are also working on other topics to bring food-tech into the retail environment. In the field of vertical integration, there are many possibilities to explore such as algae production and food waste re-usage,” explained Ziemssen. “The retailer needs to be the platform and the translator of food-tech technologies in the future. We know the customer’s needs and we also understand the benefits of new food technologies.”

The maintenance of relevance in a digital revolution is increasingly competitive, and as we keep moving towards the future, discussions are already being had on how important AI will become in food retail, reveals Ziemssen.

“AI becomes more important for physical stores. In this context, we talk about the ‘Internet of Food’, where we use as many data capturing points as possible to create algorithms to avoid food waste and to get an intelligent supply chain process. On top, AI is the main pillar of a blockchain approach to our food system. To improve processes for food-loss prevention, a semantic system is needed. Therefore, AI is also the basis.”

Fabio Ziemssen is sharing his insights on the panel The Role of E-Commerce in Disrupting the Future Food Value Chain at Future Food-Tech in London on October 18-19. Joining him is an international 40+ speaker line-up, including insights from ADM, DSM Venturing, Nestlé, Just Eat Ventures and Mondelez International to name a few. Find out what the food industry will be talking about at Future Food-Tech London, and view the agenda now.