Rethinking Tomorrow’s Grocery Store

By: Mark Delaney, Retail Industry Consultant at Zebra Technologies

Looking back at NRF 2020, most retailers walked away with a reasonably clear understanding of what their innovation roadmap looked like for the upcoming year. Some knew they wanted to implement new technologies to improve their operations and the customer experience, others decided to evaluate existing solutions and technologies in hopes of utilizing them more efficiently. Suffice it to say, that roadmap has hit some substantial speed bumps influenced by the COVID-19 pandemic. Grocery retailers have been hit particularly hard – managing huge increases in demand that no Computer-Generated Ordering (CGO) system could have possibly anticipated. The innovation roadmaps they were focused on at the start of 2020 have had to shift or be reimagined as grocers consider what their stores will look like as they rebuild after the pandemic.

Health and Safety First

Many grocery stores are already taking immediate steps to divert their resources and ensure the health and safety of their associates and shoppers. Some of these measures include installing safety shields for cashiers, re-directing in-store traffic and even launching new mobile apps that allow customers to do their own shopping. Robots can also be seen in store aisles at non-peak hours helping sanitize and clean floors, a task retailers are having a difficult time keeping up with as they struggle to hire enough workers.

As retailers re-evaluate their current workflows, many are designing for distance to reduce exposure to other people. Even after consumers begin shopping in grocery stores again on a more regular basis again, the need for changes to each store’s interior layout will be important to help ensure the health and safety of their associates and customers. The increase in buy online pick-up in store (BOPIS) – primarily BOPAC (buy online pickup at curb) programs significantly impacts technology, staffing and store design – with many retailers already announcing that store remodels will be largely focused on creating more room for staging orders and enabling easier pickups.  In some instances, retailers have even announced shopping by appointment, a trend that works very similar to getting your hair cut or going to the doctor’s office. Consumers call a store in advance of their visit to pick a time, therefore enforcing the store’s occupancy limits and reducing traffic during high-volume hours.

Contactless shopping options will also become more prevalent as retailers focus on the health and safety of their associates and customers. Solutions for contactless checkout, price checking, product look-up and deli ordering are just a few areas that can be impacted with a hands-free solution.

Growing Demand for Alternative Shopping Solutions

The need for social distancing has also resulted in explosive growth and demand for click-and-collect and curbside pickup solutions. These solutions utilize mobile devices to enable store associates to pick items faster and leverage workflows once reserved for the warehouse. Although the industry predicted these solutions to grow in popularity over the next few years, no one could have predicted just how critical they would become in the last few months alone. U.S. grocery stores are already increasing the number of click-and-collect locations they offer later this year and into 2021 in order to keep up with the desire for contactless shopping.

As the everyday shopping experience continues to evolve, the line between warehouse solutions and front-of-store grocery solutions is blurring, with stores transforming into micro-fulfillment centers. Going forward, it’s apparent that many consumers who rarely used e-commerce for groceries will adopt this approach as their “new normal.” On the digital front, it is even becoming increasingly common for site visitors to be placed into a virtual queue before they have permission to place an order.

By leveraging purpose-built mobile devices and newer automation solutions, grocers can successfully manage demand in this new environment and hasten their recovery. In today’s data-driven, technology-enabled world, prioritizing innovative, intuitive, holistic mobile solutions can help grocery retailers address inventory visibility, associate productivity and most importantly, health and safety challenges.