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Retail Industry Updates

How Food Retailers Can Survive — and Thrive — in This E-Commerce Boom

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For food retailers, the astronomical growth of e-commerce in 2020 initiated an industrywide revolution.

Older operating models no longer mapped onto this new demand, storefronts became order fulfillment centers, and brands rapidly introduced delivery and curbside services. What could have taken years took mere months.

These pivots might seem sudden, but they represent a fundamental shift in shopping behavior and will determine how retailers operate post-pandemic. As a leader in the food retail space, you need to get to grips with what this shift means. Learning how to improve operational efficiency in retail is the key step to take if you’re going to capitalize on today’s opportunities.

Why Is E-Commerce Challenging for Food Retail?

E-commerce represents a bigger shift in grocery store operations than other kinds of retail. Although other industries’ products can be picked from a warehouse and shipped, many e-commerce groceries must coexist with brick-and-mortar stores. And the balance of these two modes is shifting rapidly: With online demand surging and sales growing by nearly 53% last year, food retailers must now cater to this new traffic.

Additionally, fulfillment is one of the challenges of online food retail. In-store fulfillment for online orders can cause major hiccups (think long checkout lines or issues with dwindling stock), not to mention needing more trained hands to pick and organize items. That’s why some larger retailers have introduced “dark stores,” turning underperforming retail units into online-only fulfillment hubs.

These pandemic-era shifts are likely to last because they’ve opened online channels to new groups of people. Consumers who previously bought many of their groceries in person are now much more comfortable with the online process. They’ve felt the benefits of e-commerce, and their daily habits have evolved.

3 Ways to Start Increasing Staffers’ Operating Agility

A fresh outlook and modern retail technology will be key for food retailers looking to achieve operational agility as the e-commerce boom continues. Here are three strategies leaders can put in place to help teams succeed:

1. Make communication your oxygen. Improved communication between team members, team leads and other parts of your operation will help you keep supply channels flowing and maintain reliable, transparent service for customers. Your store will operate differently now — with new processes and ever shifting government regulations — and everyone must adjust.

The ability to connect employees and smooth operational management are key to making this successful. So communicate more than before and host regular updates about restrictions, roles and responsibilities. When it comes to sharing information, know that mobile and digital channels will also work better than traditional paper bulletins as the status quo shifts. This brings us to our next step.

2. Incorporate a single interface that brings your team together. Your team should be able to quickly access information via a tool everyone can use. That’s why it’s crucial to maintain a single interface where team members can go to find the latest guidelines and processes that apply to them. For example, a customer might order a product that’s out of stock and needs a substitution. With this, your pickers will need a place to find a list of viable replacements.

That means worker-facing digital technology in grocery stores is more important than ever. It will literally determine how your supply chain functions, how your staff responds to changing roles and how customers adapt. And during a pandemic, real-time health and safety information is critical. Upload digital sources of information within one centralized tool (such as the latest COVID-19 protocols, staff shortage lists or daily cleaning rotas) to safeguard employees and make work less stressful for everyone.

3. Give operations managers and team leads extra capabilities. Improvements shouldn’t stop with on-the-ground employees; managers and team leads also need extra help securing updates and optimizing teams within this highly complex working environment. More than ever, they’re being asked to deliver in increasingly challenging circumstances. This means information that helps them make the right decisions — like updated customer service guidelines from corporate hubs or upcoming store deliveries — is even more critical for them.

More than just access to information, leads need to be able to disseminate information to their team members that they can instruct in a low-touch, easy-to-manage way (using items such as checklists for repeatable jobs and surveys to ask for information). Dedicated tools can help roll these items out and ensure managers and team leads can track their teams’ progress.

By connecting your teams to technology, you give them tools they can rely on to do their job — even when everything around them is changing rapidly. Technology in grocery stores has also evolved incredibly quickly, but it will be your best guide in weathering the storm of this growth period and coming out stronger, more resilient and with a longer list of loyal customers.

Kees de Vos is chief product officer at Beekeeper, a mobile platform that brings collaboration, communication and tools into one place to improve agility, productivity and safety. Kees has two decades of experience in the technology sphere and expertise spanning product strategy and management, professional services and customer success.

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