Swiftly Closes the Online-to-Offline Loop for Grocers and CPGs

Before the pandemic, grocery may have appeared to be brick-and-mortar retail’s last stand against an inexorable tide of digitization. But online sales in the space tripled during the pandemic, and consumers of all age groups got more comfortable with the idea of ordering milk and eggs online, whether for delivery or expedited pickup. That left almost an entire industry in need of digital transformation, and startup Swiftly was there to make the connection.

Swiftly co-founder and CTO Sean Turner told me his company wants to be the “Google analytics for brick-and-mortar,” helping retailers, especially grocers, and consumer-packed goods brands not only sell and market their products online but also measure how both online and physical channels are performing.

The company is closing the loop of online-to-offline commerce by setting up digital stores and retail media networks that allow retailers and CPGs to more easily track whether customers exposed to a product or marketing campaign on an app end up buying that product in-store. It’s a holistic brick-and-mortar-digital partnership that Swiftly says is more beneficial to both retailers and brands than having a fragmented suite of loyalty programs, e-commerce, and attribution solutions: one vendor to manage them all.

Companies using Swiftly’s digital loyalty program are seeing basket size increases of 35 to 45%, according to one of the startup’s internal studies.

Not just an online store

Swiftly is not just an e-commerce solution. The company is also allowing its partners to explore next-generation retail technologies such as mobile, cashierless checkout.

With the company’s Swiftlane checkout feature, customers can scan items as they shop in-store and skip the standard checkout process. Swiftly has found that shoppers using the feature go to the store as much as 40% more frequently.

Turner likened the power of Swiftlane to helping Starbucks digitize its consumer experience when he was at Microsoft. Innovations like mobile payments can seem gratuitous — how hard is it to pull out a credit card? — but seamless and efficient retail solutions can make the difference when a customer is on the go and thinking about which coffeeshop or retailer to visit. The result, at least for Starbucks, was high-single-digit growth in lifetime customer value, Turner said. Swiftly is betting its frictionless solutions will pay the same dividends for retailers.

Capitalizing on brand expertise

An advantage of serving both brands and retailers as opposed to one or the other is that brands know their products best and can market them on a retailer’s app. For example, why should Walmart craft the marketing campaign for Pepsi?

Using Swiftly’s software, brands can develop the marketing for their own products on retailer platforms and then enjoy the advantage of digital distribution and online-to-offline measurement. Swiftly has found that brands driving their own marketing content can boost engagement 30 to 50%.

A new hope for data-driven retail

The data apocalypse is nigh as third-party cookies disappear and access to mobile ad identifiers by Google and Apple decreases. Swiftly thinks it has the solution for retailers and the brands that rely on them.

Retail media networks appear to be a natural solution to the problem. What’s a more effective predictor of a Walgreens customer’s future behavior: the sites they visit or past Walgreens purchases? By digitizing retail, tracking online-to-offline spend, and then using those insights to fuel marketing on its e-commerce platform, Swiftly hopes it is filling the gaps for retailers missing the data now absent in the market.

If anyone needs proof that retailers can and should do advertising, just look at Amazon, Turner said, while cautioning that the vast majority of retailers don’t have Amazon’s engineer workforce and will need technology providers to help them compete.

“Every other retailer is looking at what Amazon is doing and saying, ‘How do I get a piece of that?'” Turner said.

If Swiftly fulfills its mission, retailers might get to have their piece and eat it, too.

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Joe Zappa is the Managing Editor of Street Fight. He has spearheaded the newsroom's editorial operations since 2018 and compiled the daily newsletter since 2016. Joe is a journalist who has written widely about technology, business, and politics. You can contact him at jzappa@streetfightmag.com.