Last week, Zebra’s retail practice team leaders from EMEA and APAC shared their observations about how retailers and grocers are adapting to heightened demand and new shopping models driven by the COVID-19 pandemic. In part two of our series, you’ll hear what brick-and-mortar stores and e-commerce retailers across the Americas are doing to better accommodate social distancing orders, support those in quarantine/isolation and demonstrate that the supply chain remains strong. Our experts also provide a set of best practices that can help retailers in the region, and around the world, continue to serve customers’ needs – even from a distance.
A Demand Boost in Delivery Services Due to Social Distancing Drives Demand for More Accurate Information Flow ~ Andres Avila, Vertical Solutions Marketing Lead, Latin America
“As Latin-Americans, we are social people and staying at home can be difficult. Most countries in the region have implemented quarantines, allowing few exceptions for us to move about, so it is not easy on us right now. Fortunately, supermarkets are allowed to stay open for the occasional trip, though delivery apps and mobile platforms are quickly becoming the preferred method to shop for groceries and other basic product needs. But with more consumers discovering and trying new purchase channels such as Rappi and Cornershop, retailers are finding their logistics increasingly stressed as they try to attend to increased demand and turn stores turn into distribution centers.
More specifically, retailers in the region are learning just how critical it is to maintain an accurate information flow to front-line workers who – unlike their peers in many other regions of the world – are expected to pick, pack and deliver products to customers in an average of 20-30 minutes. (Yes, I said minutes, not hours or days.)
This is a huge challenge! Many store associates are still having to walk around the store to locate items that aren’t in the right place, causing delivery delays for orders.
As a result, retailers – who each have millions of SKUs – are trying to identify new ways for store associates to find products more easily. Needless to say, mobile technology is quickly becoming the “best friend” of both retailers and their store associates tasked with fulfilling these mobile orders and ensuring a good experience for each and every customer.
However, retailers can and should take it a step further by implementing visibility solutions, such as RFID location solutions, inventory management, mobile automation or even prescriptive analytics. They can provide guidance to store associates equipped with mobile devices about how to find products requested in the shortest amount of time, including misplaced or seemingly out-of-stock items. The resulting efficiency increases will result in labour cost savings and outstanding service reviews by stay-at-home customers whose needs are fulfilled without issue.”
Staffing Cutbacks, Pictures of Empty Shelves and Reduced Store Hours May Lead to Over-Purchasing, but They Don’t Have To ~ Mark Delaney, Retail Industry Consultant for Zebra in North America
“As everyone is likely well aware, some grocery and mass market retailers in North America are totally overwhelmed with shoppers in the current situation. This has thrown the supply chain into disarray as most of the ordering processed are automated based on “typical” buying patterns – and we are most certainly not in a “typical” cycle. At the same time, many state and local governments are asking retailers to cut staff by 50 percent on any given shift to facilitate greater social distancing at the same time as mandates for enhanced cleaning procedures are being introduced – leading to a perfect storm. Of course, the reality is that this storm is wreaking more havoc, resulting in limits to certain purchases, restricted store opening hours and in many cases store hours being set aside for senior citizens who are deemed high risk for infection. As a result, more crowds are rushing to stores when they are open, exacerbating out-of-stock levels and rationing of the most sought-after items, further straining a supply chain that by all intents and purposes is still very strong – which it could prove if it was given time to catch up to demand. In an effort to catch up, some retailers have announced hiring sprees to increase its fulfilment and delivery capacity in warehouses and stores. They are reaching out to furloughed hospitality workers in particular to offer them employment during these challenging times.
Of course, for apparel and other “less essential” retailers the story is the opposite. Most mall stores have closed, and many others are following suit, resulting in unemployment for countless lower wage workers who can least afford time away from work. More essential retailers, such as home improvement stores, are seeing mixed results. Some homeowners are taking advantage of time at home to catch up on projects, but contractors are caught in the middle – perhaps eager for work despite homeowners being reluctant to have them in or near their homes.
So, what are retailers to do?
I recommend that the following actions be taken to reduce the demand on your operations while protecting the health of people (customers and employees) and supply chains:
• Prioritize immediate shopper concerns, reallocating floor space to high velocity categories
• Communicate purchase limits where stocks are low in apps and mobile sites as well as outside the store to those waiting in line for particular products
• Communicate delivery schedules to reassure shoppers where out-of-stocks are occurring
• Support vulnerable members of the community, ex: introducing “senior hours”, offering priority access to online slots for elderly shoppers, set up call centers for those unable to shop online and establish colleague hardship funds, as many have already begun doing
• Reassure shoppers about hygiene measures and share details of those efforts. Provide sanitizer wipes for carts, baskets, etc.
• Communicate initiatives to protect staff well-being, including workplace safety and overwork avoidance
• Place essentials items near the checkout, giving shoppers a choice to minimize dwell time at the store
I also recommend that you prioritize the expansion of click-and-collect service offerings and invest in technologies that increase associate shopping capacity and speed. By doing so, you decrease the number of people who have to spend time in line outdoors before the store opens to grab essentials. You also reduce the number of substitutions and out-of-stocks for online/app shoppers, which makes everyone happy.”