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Modern digital signage interacts on a whole new level

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Digital signage has become a major trend in the retail space. While in the early days, digital signage was relegated to simply playing a video on loop as part of a display, today’s devices are more sophisticated. Modern digital signage allows users to interact with the display, enables them to manage the content they see, provides interactivity, and even delivers video analytics through artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning.

As technology advances to meet consumer demands, and as the industry strives to return to normal during and after the COVID-19 pandemic, here are some digital signage trends we can expect to see in the future.

CONSUMERS CALL THE SHOTS

Consumers are the major driver in the retail business, and as their expectations grow and shopping habits evolve, so too must digital signage. Traditional retailers are facing huge challenges, including increased pressure to exceed customer experience expectations.

Facing the need to innovate, digital signage provides a unique opportunity for retailers to bring focus back to the individual customer and provide a unique in-store journey for each shopper. In fact, 50 percent of consumers said that digital signage influenced their purchase. This means that not only are consumers interacting with this new technology, but it’s also working and delivering ROI.

INTERFACING WITH MOBILE

Another fast-growing industry trend is mobile ordering. Customers are placing their orders in advance, so the order is ready when the customer arrives. While companies like Starbucks have been doing mobile order with in-store pickup for quite some time, the trend is following customers to other retailers.

Digital signage plays a key role, letting customers know the status of their order and where/when to pick it up. This process, known as “line busting,” occurs when a customer places a mobile order and bypasses the point of service (POS) window, going straight to the pickup window instead. Orders and payment are taken in advance, allowing for a more efficient experience for the customer and giving the retailer a higher throughput, thus increasing revenue.

Convenience stores may look to this type of service, as it could increase sales while simultaneously reducing congestion in-store.

IN THE WAKE OF COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has been crippling for retail. Many experts are predicting it will take one to two years for the industry to recover. It’s obvious that the retail landscape has changed because of this crisis, and retailers will need to rise to the occasion and adapt to the “new consumer” we’ll likely see emerge post pandemic.

In a situation with such deep and far-reaching impacts, it’s likely that consumer shopping behaviors will change significantly over the long-term — well beyond the end of the pandemic.

Consumers will be reluctant to use touch kiosks. From ordering food to self-checkout at the convenience store, the touch kiosk has grown to be a large presence for digital signage in retail spaces. Consumers’ ability to use their mobile device for a touch-free purchase will be in greater demand than ever before. Or, the use of individual stylus devices might become the new normal when interfacing with touchscreen signage.

It also makes sense that drive-thru traffic, “line busting,” and online or mobile ordering with window or curbside pickup will continue to be popular options, as we ease back into the new normal but consumers might choose to avoid going inside stores.

Retailers need to start thinking toward further innovation and how digital signage can facilitate and improve the new shopping experience. Could there be designated parking spots for curbside pickup with a digital display including order number and updates on when the order will be brought to the car? How can digital signage improve convenience and increase revenue?

TRENDING UPWARD

There’s one thing that’s certain: digital signage is still on trend for the retail industry. As consumers crave more customized shopping experiences, digital signage can be tapped to both provide and track the in-store journey. Additionally, we’ll see more digital signage interface with mobile devices, both for convenience and for touch-free options in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Digital signage will play a key role in accelerating the effort to embrace the “new consumer” and develop ways to accommodate and encourage shopping to revitalize brick-and-mortar businesses.

Chris Tulk has more 25 years of experience working in the electronics industry, with 15 of those years being spent in the embedded technology space. As Advantech‘s iRetail key account manager, he focuses on finding and developing retail solutions for a multitude of different brands within the retail industry.

Originally published by CSNC’s sister publication, U.S.-based Convenience Store News. Editor’s note: The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Convenience Store News.


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Shopify and Walmart team up to take on Amazon

UnknownShopify Inc. is upping the ante in its battle against Amazon.com Inc. by aligning itself Walmart Inc. in its fight with the Seattle online retailer.

The Ottawa-based e-commerce giant, whose software powers online stores for more than one million companies, on Monday announced the partnership, which will allow U.S. merchants to sell their products on Walmart’s website.

By the end of the year, Shopify expects 1,200 of its merchants to be selling products through Walmart’s marketplace, which is visited by more than 120 million Americans every month.

Amazon had more than 2.01 billion visits in February alone and is the most visited e-commerce property in the United States, according to Statista. Walmart holds the number two spot.

The partnership is their latest swing at Amazon, a behemoth that has revolutionized the world of e-commerce with its online marketplace, massive warehouses and speedy delivery services.

Amazon has been eating into Walmart’s low-cost model by enticing customers with equally affordable prices and the added convenience of quick delivery.

Asked whether the Walmart deal was signed with Amazon in mind, Shopify’s vice-president of product didn’t single out any one company. “Anything that reduces the barrier to entrepreneurship is good for merchants, good for consumers, and good for Shopify,” said Satish Kanwar.

His company, however, tweeted a graphic on Monday based on an image used with a recent story in the Guardian newspaper about the Shopify-Amazon rivalry. Shopify animated the graphic to zoom in on a frowning character apparently made of Amazon boxes that was being towered over a shopping bag bearing Shopify’s logo.

Walmart has been trying to keep up with Amazon, which has undercut retailers with its algorithms and in-house brands and hastened the speed of online shopping, sending competitors scrambling to keep up.

“If you have a common enemy then the idea of forming an alliance to try to counteract your common enemy makes a lot of sense,” said David Soberman, a University of Toronto marketing professor.

“Shopify doesn’t benefit from the growth of Amazon. The stronger that Amazon is, the less likely it is that an independent merchant wants to set up an online store with Shopify.”

The Walmart-Shopify partnership could work well, Soberman said, because it matches Walmart – still the world’s biggest retailer – with one of Shopify’s strengths: inventory management.

Lisa Hutcheson, managing partner at consulting firm J.C. Williams Group, said the two are also a good fit for each other because Walmart is keen on digital growth – an area where Shopify has long focused.

Walmart.com’s sales surged 74% in the first quarter of its fiscal year as the brand experienced increases in demand for curbside sales and online orders during the pandemic’s early days, when details of the Shopify partnership were being worked out.

But even together, Walmart and Shopify are unlikely to beat Amazon, Hutcheson said.

“Amazon is always one step ahead of everyone in terms of where they are going to pivot next,” said Hutcheson.

“I think (Shopify) will be able to give it a run, but not catch up.”

Shopify, which temporarily topped RBC as Canada’s most valuable publicly traded company earlier this year and counts among its customers Kylie Cosmetics, Budweiser and Nestle, has been in more direct contention with Amazon since last year, when the company announced plans for a network of fulfilment centres meant to help merchants lower shipping costs and ensure timely deliveries.

The centres will focus first on the U.S., one of Amazon’s strongest markets, with the door open to expansion in other regions.

The Walmart partnership comes a month after Shopify teamed up with Facebook Inc. to allow merchants to create a customized online storefront for Facebook and Instagram.

 


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Refrigeration cleaning tips to protect against COVID-19 and food-borne bacteria

With convenience stores and micro markets declared essential services during the COVID-19 pandemic, your site likely adopted a stricter cleaning routine to prevent the virus spread. This is also an ideal time to look at best practices for food safety, because commercial refrigerators and freezers can quickly become bacterial carriers if not properly maintained. 

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Given the right conditions, bacteria found in food can double every 10 minutes, which means that 1,000 bacteria can grow to 1/2 million about 90 minutes! So, let’s look at how to create conditions where neither COVID-19 or food-borne bacteria can survive. 

Cleaning 101

Research shows COVID-19 can survive up to nine days onmetal, glass and plastic if these surfaces are not properly disinfected. While it can be tempting to saturate your refrigerated units with a strong cleaner like bleach or ammonia, don’t, as these products can contaminate food. 

Instead, use a soft cloth with a non-abrasive liquid detergent cleaner mixed with water. Soap and water are proven to eliminate the virus, as soap interferes with the fats in the virus shell, which lifts the virus from surfaces and is then rinsed off with water. (This is also why frequent handwashing is effective at preventing the virus spread.)

We recommend deep cleaning your refrigeration units monthly, but exterior door handles and doors are high-traffic areas and should be wiped down several times a day. While most sites these days have hand sanitizer available for customers to use at the checkout counter, it’s also a good idea to provide hand sanitizer or sanitizing hand wipes (with at least 70% alcohol content) directly beside any refrigerated merchandisers.

Before deep cleaning your unit’s interior or exterior, always unplug it. Neverapply or spray any undiluted cleaner directly to the unit, since excessive liquid can seep into the electrical connections and cause a malfunction or electrical hazard. To avoid any contamination, ensure all cleaning materials are cleaned themselves (for instance, use a fresh cloth each time) and stored so bacteria is not transferred from one surface to another. Also, keep cleaning equipment for refrigeration units separate from those used for floors or other store equipment.

Cleaning also gives you a chance to inspect the unit for any damage. For example, when wiping down the door gaskets and glass, check for gaps or tears in the gaskets, which can cause air leakage or a build-up of dirt or grease. If you’re not able to snap them back into place, they need to be replaced. Most units are self-defrosting, but if you have manual defrost units, follow the manufacturer’s instructions—regular defrosting is essential, as it helps prevent serious damage to compressors. 

If your unit has a conventional condenser, it should also be cleaned monthly to avoid breakdowns caused by an overworked motor. To clean it, remove the front grill, switch off on the control panel and unplug it, then use a small, hand-held duster to clean inside, and, if necessary, a vacuum cleaner for any additional debris. Don’t forget to reattach the front grill, which helps to protect the condenser from debris and damage.Some units are built with low maintenance condensers, which require regular visual inspections and much less frequent cleaning than conventional condensers.

 Freezers need to breath

Screen Shot 2020-06-11 at 10.41.35 AMWithout optimal airflow, you risk a blocked condenser, which can result in equipment failure, overheating, spoiled product, higher electrical costs and even a possible void on your warranty. 

  •     Position each unit away from the surrounding walls
  •     Ensure each unit has a dedicated electrical outlet 
  •     Situate away from other equipment that radiates heat or produces airborne oil and grime
  •     Inspect regularly to check for blockages 

In addition, distribute the product evenly inside the unit, as overloading blocks interior airflow, which can lead to spoiled food and equipment damage. Cabinets are also better able to maintain a stable temperature if they’re stocked, but not overstocked, versus empty, as the thermal mass of the refrigerated or frozen products helps to maintain the interior temperature.

Temperature matters 

Technically, a refrigeration unit can’t get a “fever”, but temperature variations are a serious threat to food safety, potentially contributing to bacteria growth, pathogens and cross-contamination. 

In an environment where doors are being opened and closed frequently, maintaining optimal temperatures within the unit is crucial. For example, chilled foods, such as sandwiches should be kept within the 37°F to 41°F range. Short spikes, not exceeding 30 minutes, above 41°F are acceptable. 

 If you do not have a temperature malfunctioning safeguard, you should aim to monitor temperatures frequently each hour to make sure they are within the healthy range. Since you need to sanitize the handles on merchandiser doors often, you can do both cleaning and temperature monitoring tasks at once. 

 Randy Skyba is the vice-president of sales and marketing at Minus Forty Technologies in Georgetown, Ont. He helps retailers merchandise their frozen and refrigerated products.


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Introducing the 2020 C-store Solutions Directory

Screen Shot 2020-06-04 at 3.04.03 PMThe inaugural C-store Solutions Directory is positioned as a valuable resource for convenience operators across Canada.

The focus is on essential equipment—from security to refrigeration, signage, displays and safety shields—necessary in the day-to-day running of a c-store.

In creating the directory, our goal is to bridge the gap between operators and suppliers; saving everyone valuable time and ensuring you have the information you need, when you need it, at your fingertips.

Bookmark the May/June issue of Convenience Store News Canada magazine.

The C-store Solutions Directory starts on p. 21. 

To be added to future directories, please click here and fill out the form. 


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Cash Exodus: COVID 19 pandemic could accelerate shift to cashless, experts say

shutterstock_350739986Some businesses reopening with pandemic protocols in place have said they won’t accept cash for the time being, potentially accelerating what the Bank of Canada describes as a decade-long shift away from the banknote.

Cashiers at Longos, Best Buy and The Shoe Company, for instance, will refuse cash out of concern the bills are a vector for the novel coronavirus. But experts – and Canada’s central bank – warn this leaves those without bank accounts, and some others with low incomes, by the wayside.

“This is going to be a big shock to the system that will push us in the direction of a more modernized payment system,” said Walid Hejazi, an associate professor of economic analysis and policy at the University of Toronto. “And if the developments we’ve seen during the pandemic continues to accelerate, we’re going to get to that fully modernized payment system much more quickly.”

The migration away from cash has been ongoing for more than a decade, according to the Bank of Canada’s most recent survey on methods of payment, conducted in 2017.

That year, it said, 33% of transactions were done in cash, down from 54% in 2009.

Smaller surveys conducted by Payments Canada, which handles the clearing and settlement of payments in this country, suggest the trend has only continued in the last few years and has accelerated in the past few months. And Interac, which operates Canada’s debit payments system, said last week that e-transfers are more frequent than ever during the pandemic and use of the contactless “Flash” tap payment system is also up.

But Canada’s central bank warns that the decision to refuse cash, while legal, could be disastrous for some of society’s most vulnerable, including the homeless and others without bank accounts.

In its report based on the 2017 survey, the Bank of Canada said 99 per cent of Canadians had a debit card and 89% had a credit card.

But Hejazi said the number of Canadians reliant on cash is likely much higher than those figures indicate.

“There’s large groups within our society that will not have access to those digital platforms in the way that might be assumed,” he said.

Some may have debit cards without much – if any – money in the account, while others may have credit cards that are maxed out, he said. Others still have low-cost bank accounts with limited transactions.

And as the popularity of online and mobile payment rises, the cost of mobile data plans also factors in, Hejazi said.

For businesses, the benefits of going cashless are appealing even beyond the pandemic, he said. Businesses that don’t accept cash don’t have to carry a “float” – money to give as change. Their transactions are already counted and their books are automatically reconciled, they need to make fewer trips to the bank and are less likely to be robbed.

But the effects on already marginalized groups would also be lasting – particularly for the homeless population, some of whom rely on panhandling to survive, he noted.

The Bank of Canada last month urged retailers to continue allowing cash transactions in part for that reason.

In an effort to mitigate the consequences, the Retail Council of Canada is recommending its members “encourage” contactless payment methods rather than mandating them.

“We’re still finding that a lot of merchants will accept cash, and that’s everything from large entities that have multiple tellers all the way down to conveniencestores,” said Karl Littler, senior vice-president of public affairs for the council. “But obviously, it’s the merchant’s prerogative as to whether to do so.”

He said the council’s recommendation errs on the side of caution as both the Bank of Canada and the World Health Organization say handling cash is about as risky as touching other common household objects, such as doorknobs, and warrants a wash of the hands rather than an outright ban.

But Littler said discouraging the use of cash minimizes risk.

“If you give cash, you get cash in return,” Littler said. “And so one of the challenges there is that although the people in the store may be very well oriented towards appropriate sanitization and physical distancing and so on, you’re actually getting somebody else’s cash back.”

 


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Strategies for building loyalty in a post COVID-19 world

customer-loyalty-radarThe novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has had a dramatic impact on how consumers shop. In Canada, we saw attitudes and shopping preferences change in a way that will impact the consumer, retail and fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) landscape even after the threat of the virus dissipates and we are living in the new normal.

Let’s take a look at what’s been happening over the last several weeks in Canada. The week of March 21, 2020, was record-setting, with almost $3 billion in retail sales; this translates to an increase of +54% versus the previous year or an additional $1 billion in sales.

Fast-forward a couple of weeks to April 4, 2020 and year-to-date sales increased $3.1 billion, which is 27% higher than all of FMCG sales in 2019. Even though March was record-breaking for FMCG sales, April continued to post higher-than-average dollar growth, but the degree of increases slowed.

As patterns begin to emerge as the crisis continues to unfold, it will be imperative for companies in Canada to look beyond our own border to other countries. Our global counterparts in countries in Asia and Europe that are further along in the pandemic and closer to recovery can provide valuable learnings for Canadian retailers and manufacturers on how to succeed and plan for the future. Here are some things to consider:

EMPHASIZE QUALITY AND EFFICACY
Throughout the recovery phase of the COVID-19 crisis, consumers will be seeking greater assurance that the products they plan to buy are free of risk and of the highest quality when it comes to safety standards and efficacy, particularly with respect to cleaning products, antiseptics and food items. In the short term, this intensified demand from consumers will require manufacturers, retailers and other related industry players to communicate clearly why their products and supply chains should be trusted. In the longer term, and dependent on the eventual scale and impact that COVID-19 has on consumer markets, it may speed up a re-think on how shoppers evaluate purchases and the benefits that they identify as the key factors to consider.

BE TRANSPARENT ABOUT LOCAL ORIGINS
More than ever, shoppers want to understand the supply chain, with complete transparency from farm to factory to distribution, and they want details of the measures being taken to assure their safety. Promoting a product’s local origins could help manufacturers and retailers assuage some consumer concerns. A Nielsen survey on disloyalty conducted last year found that global consumers report being heavily swayed by origin: 11% of global consumers said they only bought products manufactured in their country, while an additional 54% “mostly” bought local products. Manufacturers need to be transparent and reinforce their quality measures and protocols.

LEVERAGE TECHNOLOGY
With millions of people working from home and digital connectivity taking even more of a hold on everyday habits, consumers will have greater motivations and fewer perceived barriers to more actively seek technology-enabled solutions to assist in their everyday tasks, including shopping. Companies that can leverage technologies—by meeting changing consumer demands online, enabling seamless interactions through direct-to-consumer offerings and enhancing consumer experience with augmented and virtual realities— have the opportunity to earn consumer loyalty well after consumers’ concerns subside. So, how does your brand play a role in helping consumers live a little bit easier at home? Retailers and manufacturers that can help solve the challenges consumers are faced with in their homes, such as cleaning, personal care and mental health tips will go a long way in building consumer loyalty.

Carman Allison is vice-president of consumer insights at Nielsen in Toronto. This article appeared in Canadian Grocer‘s May 2020 issue.


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C-store design for a modern world: Q&A with CTM’s Devin Mahaffey

Screen Shot 2020-06-04 at 10.41.46 AMDevin Mahaffey, president of the CTM Design, has seen a lot of changes first hand in the c-store space. Back when his Calgary-based company first began 30 years ago, it was a different landscape. Convenience stores had limited offerings and few amenities. He and his firm have been able to lead the way in reimagining c-stores to meet the evolving needs of modern consumers, operators and franchisees. We caught up with him for a peek back—and forward—about what’s in store.

CSNC:  How have convenience stores changed over the years?

DM: There’s definitely much more competition now. Back then, they were often small spaces with limited offerings. Now c-stores are quite expansive with various profit centres. There’s a big push right now to offer hot food, like we’re seeing with operators like 7-Eleven and Circle K. They’ve expanded to provide more opportunities for their customers to get the things they need.

 

CSNC: What’s influencing your decisions now about design?

DM: We consider a lot more things, especially those related to customer interaction. Our clients are spending money on washrooms, for example. They used to be afterthoughts and the aim was to spend as little as you could. Now, convenience stores are investing to retain the client in store much longer.

Flow is important—how to move customers within the space to get them to key areas where they can invest their dollars while they’re there. The thought process includes what you put front and centre and how to catch their eye to drive them through the whole space. The worst thing for customers to come in and go straight to the pay point or sales counter, then avoid 90% of the rest of the store. 

Our interior designers are talking with our clients about current design trends. They’re engaged in discussions about revamping stores on a much more frequent basis. Those discussions are about revisiting those profit centres and the touch-and-feel aspect of stores. It’s a much more common topic than it used to be.

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CSNC: Can you talk more about those touch and feel aspects?

DM: They are really important—lighting, for example. There was a time when we did store design and wouldn’t give lighting a second thought. Nowadays, we’re running lighting analysis, and following retail space guidelines to ensure products are lit in a way that grabs a customer’s attention. It also includes the aesthetics around coffee and food—clean design, a wide variety of options, including the addition of health foods and fresh food products. They need to be presented in a manner that really pops.

 

CSNC: What have you seen that’s new and notable in design?

 Screen Shot 2020-06-04 at 10.45.28 AMDM: We did a recent project in Banff. The client really thought about why visitors were coming to that destination—not just the building’s architecture. They had a higher-end coffee offering and a free bottled water fill-up station. They had top-end washrooms, toilets with heated seats and everything was hands-free. They focused on what they knew those particular clients were looking for. They really went out of the box.

 

CNSC: What will we be seeing more of in the future?

DM: There’s more attention being paid to picking materials and finishes that can make a store look newer and cleaner longer with less effort from an operational standpoint. There has been a lot of focus on picking those, especially more premium finishes, than we’ve seen in the past.

There’s also lots of talk about automation and less necessity for the interaction with someone that’s working at the pay point counter as an example. But, I mean, I think to some degree some of that’s going to be limited as well. We’re always going to need, from a safety standpoint, somebody physically there.

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Shopify unveils new products aimed at entrepreneurs grappling with COVID-19

Entrepreneurs who are struggling to keep their businesses alive amid the demands of COVID-19 or feel underserved by the country’s financial institutions are about to get a helping hand from Shopify Inc.

To help entrepreneurs “futureproof” their companies, the Ottawa-based e-commerce giant said Wednesday that it is launching a handful of business management and sales tools, including giving its merchants the ability to let customers “buy now, pay later” and tip.

Craig Miller, Shopify’s chief product officer, said some of the new features and products were in the works long before the pandemic, but others were dreamed up or accelerated as entrepreneurs scrambled to pivot their businesses to online models while experiencing lost income, furloughs and layoffs.

“It almost became 2030 overnight,” he told The Canadian Press. “Some of the things we were anticipating as being important over the next coming years became super important basically overnight, so we’ve been trying to equip our merchants as much as possible to deal with this kind of situation.”

Shopify’s launches were shared at Reunite, a virtual event the company put on in lieu of its annual Unite conference, where the company’s top executives usually unveil major product announcements. Unite, which was due to be held in Toronto in May, was cancelled in March because of COVID-19.

The pandemic has proved to be a boon for Shopify, which passed Royal Bank of Canada to become the most valuable, publicly-traded company in Canada in May.

Its stock now regularly reaches more than $1,000 in trading and the company boasts that more than one million businesses _ Shopify calls them merchants _ now use its offerings.

“It sounds a little weird at first glance, but we’re seeing some grocery stores and restaurants use Shopify,” said Miller.

He’s also noticed the number of local orders Shopify merchants received each day on average spiked by 176 per in the six weeks leading up to April 24, just as physical distancing and work-from-home orders were put in place in several countries.

Shopify believes companies may see an additional boost from its Wednesday announcements, revealing merchants will be able to collect tips and set fees, minimum order prices and distance radiuses for deliveries.

The company began allowing merchants to sell gift cards in recent weeks and teamed up with Facebook Inc. on Tuesday to unveil a new and free tool helping companies create a customized online storefront for Facebook and Instagram.

Later in the year, those in the U.S. will be able to offer a “buy now, pay later” and get access to Shopify Balance, a business account that promises a clear view of cash flow and an ability to pay bills and track expenses. It will come with a “balance card” with cashback, discounts on shipping and marketing and no monthly fees or minimum balances. Merchants can use it to make purchases or withdraw from ATMs.

Shopify did not say when the service will be available to Canadian merchants.

Balance is targeted at the two in five merchants that Shopify has discovered are using their personal bank accounts and cards for business and others who find banking products aren’t designed to meet the needs of or flexibility required by entrepreneurs.

“It becomes very tricky for them to separate their business from their own personal bank accounts and that causes all sorts of problems, for example, when they need to get financing… and in some cases, it affects their credit score,” said Miller.

Despite Shopify partnering with Facebook, it’s still positioning itself to take on other tech giants, including Amazon.com Inc.

Shopify’s network of fulfilment centres, which launched last year to help U.S. merchants lower shipping costs and ensure timely deliveries, has been going head-to-head with the Seattle-based behemoth.

Shopify’s network has just begun accepting merchant applications after completing an early access stage.

“The response was almost bigger than anticipated,” Miller said. “We’ve just gotten bombarded with merchants that want to use it.”


A customer pays at a Rabba store – the day the company began the installation of protective glass separators in all of its 34 local markets.

Rabba installs glass barriers at checkout

A customer pays at a Rabba store – the day the company began the installation of protective glass separators in all of its 34 local markets.

A customer pays at a Rabba store – the day the company began the installation of protective glass separators in all of its 34 local markets.

Rabba Fine Foods is installing countertop glass barriers that aim to offer maximum protection for both cashiers and customers.

Rabba. which operates local market and convenience stores in more than 34 neighbourhoods in the central and western parts of the GTA, began installing the protective barrier on Sunday and aims to have installation complete across the chain by Wednesday. Its store are open year-round, 24 hours a day.

“We are doing everything we can to stay open for our customers and, at the same time, to increase their safety and comfort while in our stores,” says Rick Rabba, president of Rabba Fine Foods, a family-run business with roots that go back to 1967.

The chain is posting in its stores educational signs and messages from local health authorities.

These latest initiatives are part of a broader pandemic-defence campaign  that has included an increase in disinfecting and sanitization of stores, introduction of gloves and hand-sanitizers for staff and education for staff and customers about proper hygiene, social distancing and staying at home when experiencing any symptoms.

“We have been working 24/7 in an effort to source quality products, bring them to our stores quickly and to keep them fairly priced,” says Rabba. “I could not be more proud of the Rabba team and express my gratitude to them, as well as our store managers, for their resilience during these times.”


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Micro-markets, major potential

Burgeoning concept combines digital technologies with offline shopping experiences

Screen Shot 2020-03-16 at 2.29.02 PMLooking at competitive dynamics within the food and beverage retailing marketplace, competition is steep.  As the lines of competitive differentiation continue to blur between channels, retailers look for ways to amplify consumers’ experiences both in-store and online, while being mindful of contemporary values that are increasingly shaping individuals’ food and beverage choices.

From the prioritization of fresh (e.g. increased vegetable consumption) to the demand for high quality less-processed solution-oriented options and to the quest for globally inspired cuisines, consumers are on a journey of discovery. It is both challenging and changing food retailing as we know it.

At the centre of this change is technology.

Just as retailers and restaurants have increasingly become tech companies with digitized shopping and daily delivery services, tech companies are also becoming food companies.

Nowhere is that concept more apparent that through the lens of the relatively new concept of micro-markets.

Micro-markets are a form of unattended retail outlets. Most often they are small square footage bricks and mortar stores or vending services that resemble a foodservice/grocery store hybrid model.  Due to their relatively small size, they can be strategically located in high-traffic areas, such as office building concourses, airports or university campuses. They typically do not have on-site personnel to manage or oversee operations and often include fully digitized electronic kiosks to promote easy and speedy customer checkout. 

While micro-markets may be viewed as handy grab-and-go concepts, their true value proposition lies in the opportunity to weave together digital technologies with offline shopping experiences, without the inconvenience of expending time and effort traversing store aisles seeking one- meal solutions or by waiting in line to pay.

It is vitally important for online retailers to gain a foothold in physical store retailing, given that the majority of food dollars, whether at retail or in foodservice, is still spent in bricks and mortar locations.

Ipsos’ FSM (Foodservice Monitor) tracking study reports that micro-markets in Canada, while still dominated by vending machines, accounts for as much as 3% of foodservice traffic.  While micro-markets’ share has increased in year-over-year tracking, dominated by growth in Ontario, this channel remains a relatively unknown player.  

However, at the heart of micro-market expansion in North America is Amazon Go, which is reportedly set to open 3,000 new locations by 2021.  The branding power and marketing clout of this behemoth could shine an entirely new light on this channel, particularly if Amazon includes highly urbanized Canadian locations in their expansion plans.

Current Canadian micro-market concepts most prominently include Longo’s Pronto Eats, which is a strategically placed small-square footage cashless grocery experience in downtown Toronto, with more locations planned in coming years.  It would be hard to imagine that there are not a number of other retailers or tech companies eyeing this new concept, particularly given their reportedly high margin targets.

Beyond the opportunity for profiting from this concept is also the opportunity to connect younger consumers to a convenience-oriented fully digitized food shopping experience. 

With a focus on locally-sourced fresh produce, daily prepared ready-to-eat options and easy-prep solutions, such as meal kits, the technology enabling the micro-market concept provides the shopper a sense of control to hand-pick options that meet personal taste preferences, specific dietary needs and satisfy rising sustainability requirements.  It could also facilitate blockchain-like technology that allows shoppers to instantaneously evaluate the product route to market and determine whether it aligns with their sustainability values.  

Given the evolving edible ethics criteria increasingly shaping young consumers’ decisions, food and beverage brands may have a unique opportunity to deliver messages of personal and social benefits in a less cluttered environment.

Ipsos’ research reports that almost three-quarters (73%) of consumers between the ages of 18 and 34 agree that a product’s environmental impact strongly or somewhat influences their decision to consume the product, with a similar proportion of them reporting that sustainable packaging plays an important role in their decision-making.

With a growing requirement for augmented experiences that mash digital technologies with in-store engagement, we need to closely monitor the emerging channel of micro-markets.

Kathy Perrotta is a vice-president with Ipsos Market Strategy and Understanding, working with the Food & Beverage Group Syndicated Services.  Data sources within this group include, Ipsos FIVE and Foodservice Monitor (FSM). Ipsos FIVE is an ongoing daily tracking of consumption behaviour, attitudes, situational dynamics, health statuses, preparation and shopping habits that influence item choice for more than 20,000 individuals annually across all dayparts, categories/brands and venues. Ipsos FSM is a daily tracking of purchases, habits and motivations at all foodservice segments and at branded operators among more than 36,000 individuals annually.