This post was written by Steve Paro, Chief Product Officer, Upshop, a Zebra Independent Software Vendor (ISV) Partner.
Omnichannel success is more than just table stakes in grocery these days. Integrated e-commerce and brick-and-mortar sales are urgently valuable as omnichannel shoppers spend 2-4 times more money than those who solely shop in stores. That’s why a synchronized store has become the difference between a grocer that struggles and a grocer that wins.
Major retailers are learning that streamlined end-to-end operations are critical to omnichannel profitability, and that’s driving them toward technology designed to accommodate the complexity of multiple channels. But getting to the starting line can feel almost as difficult as crossing the many different finish lines defined for the races retailers are running right now.
That’s leading some to question if retailers can successfully and sustainably own their omnichannel systems in the current market.
I can tell you based on my experience working with retailers, and grocers specifically, it is possible. However, there are four concrete “people” pillars upon which omnichannel operations must be built and managed. All involve smarter technology utilization but remind us that retail will always be a human-centric business. Let’s dig into each so you can see what groundwork you need to lay to take greater ownership of your omnichannel:
1. System Synchronization
The average retail organization uses an estimated 44 different systems to engage customers across touchpoints.
That should concern you.
How can you provide a seamless shopping experience with over 40 tech solutions working out of sync? In my experience, grocers that invest in yet another point solution promising frictionless shopping tend to end up with a tech ecosystem that’s more complex to manage, hemorrhages cash, and is difficult for employees to adopt.
Siloed platforms and legacy systems are either clunky, manual, or have difficulty integrating third-party solutions. Sometimes, they’re all the above. What’s worse is that, while they may be able to fix a single business problem, they rarely provide or support a total store solution.
This tends to occur when decision makers lose sight of how each platform must integrate with pre-existing systems and how each will affect the overall data landscape. Slapping a band-aid over every small issue just won’t cut it anymore – band-aids don’t hold very long. As a result, retailers end up spending even more time, money, and labor resources than originally planned repeatedly tending to the same issue – or secondary issues that fester as a result of the underlying problem going unresolved so long.
The real fix to nearly every business problem? Investing in solutions that sync from the start and stay synced as the overarching system grows and evolves.
The complexity of grocery omnichannel demands simplification: connected solutions that act as a total store platform, simplifying operations for the impacted shopper, retailer, and employee alike.
It’s also important to present a holistic brand experience, as haphazard conglomerations of third-party systems ultimately do not portray a unified brand. Positive customer sentiment and e-commerce performance metrics strongly correlate with owning digital assets and high rankings for ease and reliability.
So, be smart about how your store is connected. Sync up omnichannel, and win.
2. Ultimate Freshness
About 80% of any grocer’s inventory assortment will be more or less the same as competitors’ assortments. So, how do you differentiate yourself?
Nailing the fresh perimeter is key.
Contemporary shoppers place high value on fresh products. At the start of the pandemic, 75% of consumers were willing to pay a premium for fresh food, and over half of them increased fresh purchases significantly. Consumers will choose which store has a better fresh selection every time, meaning fresh operations are critical to driving and securing long-lasting shopper loyalty.
But for the fresh perimeter to work and work well, your entire store operation must sync up. Consider how much of your fresh operation crosses multiple departments: fresh ordering, production planning, recipe management, inventory and waste management, and expiration date tracking. The corresponding technology systems fuel and affect one another. When they sync — intentionally and comprehensively — the entire perimeter benefits, as do your shoppers and bottom line.
Take made-to-order and e-commerce fulfillment functions. Associates waiting for online orders in line at the deli will likely lead to annoyed customers, flustered staff, and a hassle you wouldn’t have to deal with if made-to-order and e-commerce fulfillment operations were integrated within the total store system. Linking the two functions technologically speaking means online orders that include pre-made items can go quicker, and the customer experience can be prioritized.
In other words, ensure the freshest perimeter by investing in capable tech. Your customers and employees will thank you.
3. Optimized Online Assortment
Retailers set out to build an e-commerce assortment as robust as their in-store selection. But when it comes to the complexities of online retail models, providing identical inventory is a difficult task.
One significant snag in the grocery space is the planning and management of freshly prepared items. Offering made-to-go and pre-made online items creates a complicated fulfillment challenge when it comes to labor, timing, and the quality of fresh food. As a result, many grocers would rather exclude pre-made selections from e-commerce channels entirely but doing so means they’re running the risk of disappointing online shoppers. Seven-in-10 fresh departments say they have a clear seat at the table in making strategic overall e-commerce decisions – decisions that should keep in mind shoppers who want fresh in-store items in their online orders.
Another roadblock arises when retailers introduce automation capabilities. The increased prevalence of micro fulfillment centers (MFCs) and dark stores means significant upticks in automation, often at the expense of assortment. Automated fulfillment facilities are great for cutting labor costs and optimizing workflows, but they offer new assortment challenges that might drive retailers to reduce selection in order to match technical limits.
The temptation to reduce inventory offerings is strong, especially fresh goods. But grocers should seriously consider the implications on shopper loyalty and satisfaction. Customers want what they want and expect consistent value across online and in-store channels. Building a digital assortment involving less fresh selection may alienate shoppers from trying out a new channel and, ultimately, impact e-commerce success.
4. Qualified People
One of the most strenuous positions in the modern grocery store is the online order picker, who spends day after day walking miles up and down store aisles ensuring that orders placed online get filled correctly, on time, and to the satisfaction of the customer. And the expectations of that customer will be higher than usual.
An in-store shopper can choose which apple looks the tastiest. The online consumer expects this decision will be made to their taste by the employee picking their order. Food is personal, after all, and online shoppers expect retailers to fill their orders thoughtfully and carefully — putting major pressure on associates.
Why not set these employees up for success right from the start?
E-commerce fulfillment technology should ensure continued shopper loyalty while instantly equipping the workers taking on the role of “picker” with a new skill set. Though technology should be empowering – enabling front-line workers to float from one role to the next without extensive training. Too often does tech get in the way of the employees doing their best job. Associates picking online orders fuel an incredibly important sector of omnichannel, and they deserve a reliable mobile computing solution with an adaptable user interface (UI) that makes their jobs easier. Any investment in technologies meant to streamline e-commerce operations should simplify, spotlight, and optimize e-commerce labor.
Start thinking of employee adoption as a return on investment (ROI) metric. True technology solutions will account for the complexity of omnichannel labor and facilitate clear communication between your customers and employees. They will also help you keep associates happy and retained in their e--commerce roles, which is undeniably valuable, especially in this fraught labor market.
Omnichannel: The Non-Negotiable Battleground
Shopper needs, perceptions, and behaviors are constantly in flux, so it’s in your best interest to provide matching fluidity.
If you want to fully own your omnichannel model and successfully establish yourself – in customers’ eyes – as the go-to grocer/retailer, you must:
Ensure all technology systems are thoughtfully integrated to support seamless shopper experiences.
Build an omnichannel solution that maximizes product freshness.
Optimize assortment without perceived sacrifices.
You must also ensure you’re giving front-line and sideline associates the right tools – tools that empower them to be the heroes of consumers’ shopping experiences. If technology performance issues end up relegating associates to the bench – meaning shoppers feel the only way they’ll “win” is if they do the shopping themselves – then it’s going to be impossible to gain a competitive edge in today’s retail environment.
So, take the time to plan out your strategy. Consult with experts who understand the grocery/retail business and the role technology can and should play in that business. Let them guide you through the platform selection, system integration and change management processes so that you achieve the ROI you desire now and in the future.
About the Author
Steve Paro is Chief Product Officer at Upshop. Steve, a product development and technology veteran, joined Upshop during the ShopperKit acquisition bringing with him more than two decades of experience in delivering retail supply chain, e-commerce and logistics technology solutions. Prior to Upshop, Steve was ShopperKit’s Chief Technology Officer and Managing Partner of VelocityChain. Today, he is a critical driver of Upshop’s strategic product roadmap, which includes the development of the omnichannel services fulfillment platform and the integration of multiple leading store technologies – FreshIQ, Itasca’s MagicTM, Date Check Pro, and ShopperKit -- into the Upshop Total Store Operations Experience.