6 Ways Food Retailers are Tackling the Worker Shortage

By Sarah Taylor, TimeForge Labor Management

Self-checkout has surged in the past 18 months, but that’s not the only way grocers are tackling the worker shortage. Many food retailers are also changing things up by adopting a grocery/restaurant hybrid or “grocerant” business model. In order to differentiate themselves from the competition, grocerants sell prepared foods at a dine-in area of the store. From in-house steakhouses to onsite cooking classes to take-out meals by local restaurateurs, grocers are getting creative about how they attract and retain guests. But with these new foodservice concepts come new challenges, which must be tackled alongside the worker shortage. As an RSPA Member, we thought you might be interested in a few.

Food Retailers are Tackling the Worker Shortage with Modern Tools

Technologies are turning out to be critical for helping grocers overcome labor market challenges. Here are 6 timely ways grocers are tackling the worker shortage using modern tools and cutting-edge tech:

1. Employing Tech that Requires Minimal Training
One way grocers are keeping up with labor needs is by employing technology that reduces the need for training. For example, using CBS NorthStar’s order entry software, grocerants can list out all the ingredients for each menu item at the time of order. If a customer has a question about what goes on a salad, all the info they need is right there. As a result, very little training and cross-training is necessary; a cashier at the lanes could just as easily fill in at the salad counter. Instead of hiring for prior foodservice experience, managers utilizing NorthStar can concentrate on hiring for “bench strength” or customer service skills.

2. Using Self-Checkout Designed for Foodservice
Self-checkout isn’t just for large grocers these days; they’re a game-changer for grocerants, too. With order entry tech like the one mentioned above, guests can enjoy a full self-service ordering kiosk in the store. And that’s with item upsells and selling suggestions. Today’s cutting-edge tech knows whether a guest has added enough drinks to an order and, if not, asks them if they’d like to add more. Similarly, the software can suggest items that pair well together, such as certain wines and cheeses. (Or coffee brews and bagels, pizzas and beers, the sky’s the limit.) Grocerants are capitalizing on these features to maximize revenue opportunity while reducing their overall reliance on labor.

3. Reducing Wait Times and Improving CSAT
Another way savvy grocers are tackling the labor shortage is by doubling-down on their CSAT and retention efforts. One of the biggest complaints customers can have about any business is wait time. Long waits keep guests from coming back. While self-checkout significantly reduces wait time at the front end, wait time in departments continues to be a challenge. This is especially true when skilled department hires aren’t available. To combat that challenge, grocerants are using order entry software that’s designed for restaurants and foodservice. For example,
CBS NorthStar knows exactly how long each item will take to prepare and sends the ticket items to the kitchen at just the right moment. This reduces wait times and boosts CSAT.

4. Improving Worker Satisfaction and Retention
Another way grocers are tackling the worker shortage is by shoring up their employee retention efforts with mobile device tech. Many traditional
grocery and food retailers still rely on older timekeeping and scheduling methods, but that’s beginning to change. Employees today expect to be able to do things like check time cards and work schedules from their smartphones. With online labor management technology, employees can do that and more. From requesting time off, to swapping shifts with coworkers, to picking up shifts – all from the palm of their hand. Retailers are realizing that without these tools, they simply can’t compete against other employers.

5. Creating More Flexibility with an Internal Gig Economy
In today’s competitive market, flexibility is critical to grocers’ ability to adapt to a worker shortage. That’s why businesses with multiple locations are adopting labor management tech that allows them to create an internal gig economy. An internal gig economy allows retailers to  quickly and easily share workers between stores. By enabling employees to voluntarily pick up shifts at nearby locations, businesses can balance staffing across the chain or enterprise without generating overtime or incurring labor law penalties. (Examples of costly labor laws include
clopening laws and predictive scheduling laws.) This flexibility not only improves customer service across multiple units, but it empowers team members to earn extra hours, which can be a boon around the busy holidays.

6. Using AI to Optimize Available Labor
Last but definitely not least, successful grocers are using sales-driven scheduling technology to distribute workers efficiently and according to anticipated demand. With software powered by predictive analytics and machine learning algorithms, grocers can build efficient employee schedules in
very little time. These schedules can incorporate all of a business’ unique staffing rules and policies, including labor laws that must be followed in their city or state. (For example, TimeForge generates schedules that adhere to complex California meal and break laws.) The added benefit of optimizing labor is that it often alleviates staff burnout and reduces employee turnover. Employers who use labor optimization tech are therefore not only benefiting through increased CSAT but increased employee retention, as well.

Technology Helps Food Retail Merchants Tackle the Worker Shortage

Modern tools and cutting-edge tech are helping grocers tackle the worker shortage at every stage, but it all comes back to the customer experience at the front end. You need happy employees in order to have happy customers. When a grocer’s labor management strategy is in line with its business strategy, and when its team members have been empowered with the tools and technology to act on both, the worker shortage stops becoming a problem. And the business gets back to doing what it does best.

If you found this post useful, check out our industry study on grocery labor market trends.