Due to the surge of the Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases in early 2020, brick-and-mortar stores were forced to adapt to new consumer demands and behavior.
While there’s hardly an economic area that hasn’t been pushed to shift to a digital setting, grocery and food retailers have had to deal with record amounts of demand over the past few months, which has put a strain on their existing workflows.
The impact of COVID-19 on grocery chains
At the beginning of the pandemic, grocery stores struggled to keep up with demand as shoppers began lining up their cupboards with shelf-stable items and hygiene products in preparation for lockdowns and self-quarantine.
Remarkably, key players in the supply chain were able to solve bottlenecks in labor, manufacturing, distribution and logistics, thus being able to make adjustments and cater to the shoppers’ needs slowly.
But, as the supply chain worked to meet the demands, grocery retailers found themselves in yet another jam -- ensuring that shoppers received their food and other necessities as safely as possible.
With about 80% of U.S. consumers converting to online grocery shopping almost overnight, supermarket chains had to develop ways to pivot their offline strategy to offer customers increased safety and convenience.
They started employing various modes of delivery (curbside pickup, home delivery, etc.) and switched some of their stores to dark stores or fulfillment centers to accommodate the influx of orders.
These significant shifts wouldn’t have been possible without the help of technology, specifically retail software solutions.
Improving retail grocery workflow with technology
COVID-19 opened customers’ eyes to more convenient options.
This past year has undoubtedly seen the most change in retail software history. As physical grocery retailers try to understand the nuts and bolts of online retail, they look to software tools to help them deal with the transition without compromising productivity and efficiency.
Some of these retail software solutions only cover one aspect of retailing, while others offer a more comprehensive approach.
Overall, it’s possible to improve these three key areas for grocery chains when you move away from the traditional approach and embrace a more systematic and modern approach.
In the grocery and food industry, providing excellent customer service requires offering a high level of quality. A convenient, cutting-edge app is nothing if it takes forever to hand the deliveries to the shoppers.
By using technology, it’s easier to see your business performance and avoid situations where you might deliver substandard customer service. In addition, having a 360-degree view of your operations makes it easier to monitor routine tasks, such as checking inventory, maintaining store cleanliness (for physical stores), and tracking fulfillment status (for online orders).
Providing an omnichannel experience is another way to level up the customer experience. This trend has permeated retail grocery chains, with big-box stores leading the pack, and it’s only a matter of time before smaller grocery chains follow suit.
The grocery industry shows lenience when it comes to hiring employees with little to no qualifications. For instance, many high school students pick up shifts in grocery stores in their neighborhood without any plans to stay there for long. This makes it difficult to create a collaborative and streamlined work environment.
With a digitized system, collaboration is made possible through the system itself. Managers can easily allocate tasks since they have all the information they need and see which staff members are available for each activity.
From the frontline team’s experience, printing and posting instructions are no longer needed because they can look at the information through the system. This helps reduce errors and increase productivity while also boosting sustainability.
Technology also helps with remote management. For example, cloud-based systems provide upper management with key insights, allowing them to intervene when necessary. Now, tasks like daily inspections and even auditing can be monitored remotely.
In a study by Steven Harrison, the employee turnover rate for the retail grocery industry can go as high as 65%, presenting a significant organizational challenge.
According to an Indeed survey, 67% of respondents say burnout has increased. And, now that grocery store operations are back to regular programming, employees are busier than ever.
Store managers should recognize top performers and provide adequate training to keep staff motivated to lower turnover rates during these trying times.
Performance review is often riddled with bias, but with software-based solutions, the process becomes purely objective, setting a clear path for management to follow. When every task missed or fulfilled is on record, it’s easy to see who deserves a promotion.
It also makes it significantly easier for store managers to see which staff members need more training. Most employees (74%) cite a lack of development opportunities at work because they are not reaching their full potential.
Training doesn’t have to be costly. For example, e-learning and m-learning services grow in popularity among grocery sales associates, who are often on the move. This eliminates the alternative of going to training centers, which reduces costs for retailers and keeps their employees safe during this pandemic.
The future's looking bright
Sure enough, COVID-19 has sped up the need for innovative solutions that can help grocery retailers scale their operations and create adaptable workflows that can boost productivity and efficiency, but it’s only the beginning.
In the future, look for more personalized customer service in the form of promos and special offers, and customers may be able to receive products online that are only available in their local area.
Implementing software tools allows for staff performances to improve, which reduces the time spent on operations. In time, robots and cameras may be able to take over routine operations such as shelf monitoring and planogram checking, making grocery employees’ lives easier so they can focus on serving customers.
And, as artificial intelligence (AI) analytics continue to improve employee management processes, grocery store managers will find it easier to predict the correct number of staff needed per day, resulting in better shift management and fewer new hires needed.