Between the cantaloupes and the cans of creamed corn, there's a revolution brewing in the grocery industry. Traditional grocers have lost market share--15 percent over the past decade--while upstarts like smart markets and online services are making inroads.

As a result, every grocery company is looking for an edge: the secret sauce that will convince you (the consumer) to visit their store and fill your cart (with secret sauce, of course, and many more items). The good news is that even if grocery shopping is not your favorite activity, you can learn a lot about customer engagement and satisfaction just by visiting your favorite store.

For example, I'm an expert in communication, not retail, yet almost every time I shop for dinner I take away lessons I can apply to building my business. Here are five ways to start:

  1. Build deep knowledge about what motivate customers--and what turns them off. This is especially true in grocery, where customers have such contradictory impulses: They love a bargain but long for luxury; they're health-conscious but crave chocolate croissants. Smart companies in every industry spend time getting close to target customers and creating solutions to meet their needs.
  2. Keep it fresh. Crisp lettuce is a given, of course, but in this case I'm referring to "fresh" as describing the element of surprise. Think about how often Trader Joe's introduces a new product or a regional chain like King's Food Markets changes its displays. There's always something surprising for customers to try.
  3. Create a memorable experience. Selling products is no longer enough. Shoppers want to experiment, relax and have fun. Stores like Wegmans and Hy-Vee have transformed their sites into destinations, with full-service restaurants, oyster bars and barbecue stands.
  4. Mix high tech with high touch. Although U.S. consumers have been slower to embrace digital grocery shopping than people in other countries, "the connected commerce era has arrived," according to Patrick Dodd, president of Nielsen's global retailer vertical. Increasingly consumers are taking a blended approach to grocery shopping--sometimes online, sometimes in store. But the best smartphone app isn't a substitute for great service. Every time I ask a Shaw's employee where an item can be found, he or she leads me all the way to the shelf. And ask someone at Publix if you can have one sausage or half a key lime pie and the answer is always, "Of course!"
  5. Curate for convenience. While the big grocery stores are getting bigger, there's a trend to creating smaller stores that actually offer less choice--but are easier to navigate. Trader Joe's offers only 4,000 items--compared to a big store's 50,000 items. And even giants Wal-Mart and Kroger are experimenting with smaller formats.

As in any business, there's no one magic bullet to ensure success. But by paying close attention to customers and trends, and acting quickly, you can make great strides. Happy shopping!