Blog: Closing the Gap Between Increasing Demand and Decreasing Staff

September 28, 2022  |  REINT JAN HOLTERMAN

Over the last couple of years, food and convenience retail has witnessed its ups and downs due to COVID-19. Even when the overall results for both 2020 and 2021 for grocery retailers was good for the segment,  the pandemic also laid bare some of the structural issues in retail.

The grocery landscape changed dramatically, and home deliveries, curb-side pick-ups and pick-ups in store, online food ordering, e-commerce, and m-commerce are now commonplace. Quoting an IHL report  on Grocery Transformation (2022), “The pandemic changed the grocery industry permanently. The good news is that the pandemic has accelerated technology investments that were long overdue. The bad news is the peak and surge exposed many issues that were hidden before. And as long as these problems are not fixed, the margin erosion will become more acute. One thing is clear, despite the growth of the digital journeys, the smart retailers are realizing that the new store is more important than ever to the success of the future.”

Supply chain issues…
One of the issues the IHL report is referring to has to do with the supply chain. Proper inventory and stock management more than ever have proven to be crucial to the success of a retailer. According to the same IHL study, out-of-stocks during the pandemic led to a loss of 5.9% of store sales, equaling $505 billion. Also, post-COVID, stock management remains especially important, as the digital alternatives to buy a product online instead of in store are only a click away.

…complemented by labor shortages
Another issue for retailers in grocery as well as across the board is labor shortage. Finding adequate staff to support customer journeys has become a nightmare for many retailers. In fact, one out of every three retailers are worried about being able to attract and retain staff in 2022 (Morning Brew, 2022). To overcome this, 72% of business owners are using (or plan to use) automation to decrease their team’s time spent doing hands-on work.

To fill the growing gap between understaffed stores and supply chain issues and an increase in consumer demand, retailers are beginning to invest in a balanced approach towards physical labor and technology. According to Deloitte’s Retail Industry Outlook for 2022, retailers are looking to invest in a more flexible, future-proof workforce by focusing on technology and automation to rely less on physical labor. The goal is finding an optimal mix of both. 

Streamlining stock management, managing customer loyalty programs, and communicating with customers are the most critical areas where retailers expect automated technology to fill staffing gaps. 

In-store mobility supports staff…
One of the areas retailers are considering investing in is in-store mobility. By enabling store associates to use mobile devices, inventory checks can be completed much easier and more accurately than before. This saves time for store staff and turns a tedious task of counting items into a more sophisticated one. These devices also play a key role in the communication with shoppers and streamlining in-store journeys if customers need help. Finding an item or checking whether it is still in stock can be done quickly using a hand-held associate device and in-store locationing .. There are also other ways to smartly assist customers like reducing queues at peak times by temporarily turning the handheld into a mobile POS or by remotely approving age-restricted items for customers who are using one of the self-checkout lanes. One could even extend the same mobile device by putting it into a docking station and using it as a stationary workstation to handle all back-office tasks.

…as well as customers
Mobile self-scanning devices can also be used by shoppers to scan their items. The devices not only enrich shopping trips by featuring customized promotions that strengthen customer loyalty, but also by providing item recommendations and other important information. This can include  allergen information, real-time feedback on ticket size spent so far, and even an alert on the charging status of their electric vehicle, which is charging in front of the store. 

The use cases for mobile devices in retail stores are almost unlimited. With already 46,000 stores globally offering mobile self-scanning journeys (RBR, June 2022) and sometimes even a ten-fold increase in number of deployments in countries like Germany over the last two years (EHI Markterhebung, 2021) shoppers, staff and retailers are getting increasingly used to the benefits of mobile-assisted store journeys. The bottom line is,  mobile devices contribute to better communication with loyal store visitors, alleviate the burden on staff, and streamline both customer-and staff-facing store processes.

Look before you leap
A final word on the implementation of this technology in everyday store journeys. Orchestrating all mobiles journeys for customers and associates alike can be tricky and requires a clever strategy upfront, as you typically do not get a second chance for a first impression, especially not with your customers. It’s recommended to think upfront about how to proactively monitor your mobile retail ecosystem before hiccups happen, and how to make use of the wealth of real-time data you collect as a retailer. 

If you cannot wait that long, then consider speaking with our Storevolution Advisory team to check what the best technology mix is for your stores, and how you can maximize the benefits of adding mobile journeys to your current checkout mix.

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