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Overcoming Bottlenecks: Immediate Solutions for Grocery Stores

How food retailers can use tech to streamline their operations during a labor shortage
a man wearing glasses and smiling at the camera
Bagrat Safaryan Local Express
Co-founder and CEO of Local Express Bagrat Safaryan

While the demand for shopping grocery products is by no means lower, the current U.S. labor shortage means that it’s harder than ever to hire and retain supermarket staff. Understaffing is causing bottlenecks at checkouts, empty shelves at peak times, and long queues at customer service kiosks across the grocery industry.

To tackle this problem, supermarkets can digitize simple tasks that help close the gap between customer demand and limited resources. This enables smoother operations and reduces the workload on remaining staff.

Let’s take a closer look at the top list of available technological solutions for grocers and how to implement them effectively:

Introduce Supplemental Delivery and Pickup Options

Currently, buy-online-pickup-in-store is booming. In that method of shopping, customers pre-order groceries through apps or e-commerce sites and pick up the full bags in person. This hybrid store model allows them to revise their orders in-store and pick up forgotten or last-minute items. It also reduces long lines and allows customers to have a seamless experience — shopping conveniently from their couches. 

By scheduling pickups based on your calculated average of order fulfillment, you can ensure that there is always enough time for employees to select the goods and pack the shopping bags. You can also, per demand, limit the number of pickups per time period. In-app push notifications inform customers when their orders are about to be ready. Some providers offer a countdown as well. By using geo-fencing order tracking, the software can inform customers about their order status and the real-time location of their delivery. Keep in mind, however, that false promises of record-fast services often leave customers more dissatisfied than well-structured and reliable ordering. Focus on over-delivering instead of overpromising. This is the path to long-term customer satisfaction and loyalty.

Make Operations Smarter to Allow BOPIS

To enable effective BOPIS, deliver to the curbside, and support efficient pick and pack, you need to design store operations smart enough to minimize labor input.

The way stores are designed today focuses on keeping the customers engaged, but is not optimal for an efficient pick-and-pack process. As you can’t simply change store layout, you’ll need to borrow some best practices from the warehouse and logistics industry — just like those of Amazon.       

For most stores, it will be unrealistic to invest in automated micro fulfillment at a shared location unless the expected revenue fully justifies it. That’s why it’s best to implement a multipick process, which allows one employee to pick several orders in one go, increasing efficiency and saving time.

Here, the location of inventory must be recorded along with the order to minimize the time spent by an employee. Your system needs an algorithm to do this properly. If staffers don’t have to run back through the aisles looking for products, they also won’t cause congestion for customers. This is why adding a location code for product items is essential.

Next, you need software that has the appropriate program to create an electronic pick list and QR/barcode for confirmation (if required for validation). You can avoid purchasing expensive hardware by using a phone-based app or off-the-shelf technology. Lastly, you can integrate a self-checkout feature into your software platform and POS system. Then your employees can “check out” while they’re still picking and, later, avoid the checkout queue. Or, of course, customers can use this feature and check out themselves while in-store.

Use Kiosk Stations to Reduce Wait Times

One particular time-intensive area is the in-store counter. Counters arent efficient for customers who want to get in and out quickly. Visitors often have to wait for an employee — or in a queue — to be attended.

If on-demand stores have kiosk stations, customers can place orders for a custom cut, made-to-order item (i.e., a sandwich) or baked good/cake. This works like the quick restaurant ordering we have seen for years now at fast-food chains like McDonald’s or at airports. 

Stores can choose kiosk hardware that can be installed in any store. Alternatively, they can offer a similar in-app experience in which signed-up customers can pre-order their fresh products while strolling through the store. When looking for a provider, however, check whether the solutions allow customers to customize their orders on the kiosks, such as requesting a mix of 2-pound sausages and 1.5- inch cut steak. They should also allow filtering products by allergies or adding and removing substitutions. Here, adding self-serve payment processing can simplify the payment process, so they can use their mobile APP wallets to pay directly or at the kiosk station.

All in all, following some simple steps and studying the best practices of leading logistics companies can help you save time — and face the current labor shortage with confidence.

About the Author

a man wearing glasses and smiling at the camera

Bagrat Safaryan

Bagrat Safaryan is co-founder and CEO of Glendale, Calif.-based Local Express, an SaaS vertical for the food and beverage industry that specializes in providing e-commerce solutions to independent retailers and enterprises seeking digital transformation.

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