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    PG WEB EXTRA: One Retailer’s Approach to Digital

    DeCA seeks to remain relevant to its tech-savvy shoppers

    Progressive Grocer sought a retailer’s take on engaging with consumers via technology, so we asked Gordon Jones, director of the business development directorate at the Defense Commissary Agency (DeCA), to weigh in. DeCA, based in Fort Lee, Va., provides grocery products to active-duty military personnel and retirees, members of the Reserve and National Guard, and their families. The agency processed nearly 98 million customer transactions across 246 commissaries. DeCA employs nearly 16,000, and its fiscal 2012 sales were $6.1 billion.

    “We understand that mobile technologies are becoming increasingly important to our customers, so we have taken measures to reach them and meet their needs in cyberspace, whether it’s through social media or e-commerce,” says Jones. “Many of our customers are tech-savvy and part of the 18-to-34-year-old age group that tend to be the early adopters of new technology. They are busy data users, so we want to give them interesting content about what’s happening at the Defense Commissary Agency.”

    DeCA’s shopper insights division employs social media to listen to customer questions or concerns and filter any information on agency-related efforts, from digital coupons to the freshness of products in stores, to business-process managers. “DeCA has realized that engaging with customers is critical to our business. By harnessing social platforms, we are able to listen to our customers, engage with them to help solve their immediate needs and produce business insights from these interactions,” says Jones.

    Through its e-commerce division, DeCA offers online shopping capabilities with curbside service at three stores. After a full year of testing, the agency will make a decision on expanded availability.

    DeCA is also interested in delivering a mobile app that initially would assist customers with shopping lists, prices, promotions or specials, as well as a store locator with store information. The app could evolve into a mobile device to scan and place an order.

    “Ultimately, a key component of our agency vision is to ensure we understand our customers and deliver a 21st-century commissary benefit,” says Jones. This means that as the military evolves and its customers’ shopping needs change, DeCA will identify those changes and ensure it remains relevant. “Embracing support, access-and-convenience, and mobile technologies help us live up to that vision,” he says.

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