How technology is enabling optimized grocery store operations

According to a recent survey, 78% of shoppers plan to do their grocery shopping in-store in the coming months, creating opportunity for grocery retailers — if they’re able to capitalize on it. 

Returning foot traffic is only good for business if retail operations are prepared to handle it. Unfortunately, ensuring that products are on the shelf, in the right place, and ready for purchase has never felt more challenging. 

Empty shelves remain a challenge, as grocery operators continue to contend with supply chain issues, labor shortages, and legacy systems stuck in decades past. 

But all is not lost. 

Spurred in part by the pandemic and in part by broader digital transformation trends, a technological revolution is underway across grocery and big-box retailers. 

Across the industry, organizations are investing in emerging technology as a way to boost operational transparency, improve efficiency, and enhance the in-store customer experience, starting with a digital and data-driven foundation. 

Labor Shortages Are Hurting Grocery Store Operations 

Grocery operators today are experiencing labor shortages of up to 20% at their stores. Fewer employees mean less personnel to complete critical tasks like display setting, restocking, in-store picking, and more – not to mention, supporting and serving customers. 

While out-of-stocks are costing North American grocery retailers 5.9% of their total sales, filling shelves isn’t the only challenge. 

Without personnel, grocery operators are struggling to gather the data and insights needed to successfully manage their retail locations. Proper ordering, restocking, and compliance checks – to name a few – only become more manual and outdated with a delayed stream of information flowing from the shelves to the store managers to regional offices and corporate HQs. 

Simply put, the current labor shortage has only served to highlight the limitations and inefficiencies of legacy people-and paper-based processes. Without accurate, real-time visibility and data beginning at the shelf, store and then corporate teams are unable to identify operational bottlenecks and begin to remove them.

Siloed Systems Are Slowing Retail Operations 

While foot traffic is increasing, only 51% of grocery shoppers are shopping in-store exclusively. The other 49% are shopping online at least some of the time. 

When you consider that spread, trying to manage retail operations, personnel, and customer experience through manual means simply isn’t feasible. 

As long as that data disconnect persists, and grocers struggle to gain real-time visibility into their store operations, they will remain at an operational disadvantage. 

This has necessitated a change, with more and more retailers prioritizing ways to digitize and capture more accurate, complete data. This information can be used to manage operations, unlock efficiencies and improve the customer experience. 

How To Improve Grocery Store Operations with Technology  

After many years of acting as a laggard when it comes to digital transformation, the grocery industry is starting to invest in innovative technology solutions. 

If brands and retailers are going to move from data-informed to data-driven, they’re going to need technology solutions capable of capturing real-time information that helps to bridge the gap between the physical and digital shopping worlds. Below, we’ve recapped the three most promising. 

Shelf Cameras

Shelf cameras are small cameras, about the size of a pack of cards, that are attached to shelves or hung from ceilings to keep a constant eye on shelves. Utilizing computer vision, or technology that can interpret pictures and video, these cameras can check stock levels and product placement, helping to monitor for out-of-stocks or assess shelf compliance.

Robots

Grocery retailers are investing in aisle-roaming robots to patrol their stores and warehouses. Within warehouses, these robots help automate manual, tedious tasks such as moving stock from one location to the next. Within stores, some of these aisle-roaming robots are accomplishing tasks as simple as identifying store hazards and either automatically cleaning them or notifying staff, while others are scanning shelves to assess current stock levels

Product Recognition

Thanks to ongoing advancements in computer vision, data extraction, and machine learning, a new era of product recognition tech is entering the market that’s capable of detecting items on grocery shelves — no barcode scanning required. Product recognition technology, like BlinkShelf, can ingest shelf images taken from various systems and points of view (including shelf cameras and robots) and convert it into real-time, actionable product information. 

Where this technology becomes even more flexible (and valuable) is in its ability to provide this level of visual understanding and product recognition from a mobile device. That means that employees can snap a picture of shelves and detect products down to the UPC, without further investments in hardware. 

Conclusion

Investments in technology that help digitize the shelf and connect it with today’s omnichannel shopping experiences will provide a worthwhile ROI. Whether it’s in the form of robots or flexible product recognition technology, critical technology investments will improve visibility, streamline operations, and optimize what grocers are able to accomplish in the name of serving customers and boosting sales.

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Learn more about the future of grocery store operations.

March 7, 2023

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