Digital transformation is never easy. As comfortable as we may be with the digital world around us, changing systems always requires an adjustment period, as employees, management, and customers get used to a new way of doing things. Despite the challenges inherent in moving to a new system, supermarkets that want to remain competitive need to embrace the move to digital.
In response to the past year’s pandemic, online supermarkets have grown. Consumers who once felt the need to walk through the supermarket aisles for their weekly shopping have grown accustomed to a new digital experience. Online grocery shopping means prices that are clearly labeled, items are put in shopping carts but go untouched until they reach the house, and there are no lines to pay.
Supermarkets need to adjust to changing customer expectations if they want to remain competitive. The digital transformation that they have never viewed as essential is on the doorstep, and the faster they can move, the more likely they can protect themselves from mass customer churn.
Identifying customer pain points
Let’s start by looking at some of the biggest complaints that shoppers have about the grocery store. In no particular order, they are:
1. Checkout errors/pricing mistakes.
2. Not enough checkout lanes our open/long lines.
3. Confusing store layouts.
4. Out of stock items.
5. Rude or unfriendly cashiers.
A full-digital transformation can eliminate each one of these complaints, leading to customers who enjoy their shopping experience.
Start with the low-hanging fruit
Checkout errors and pricing mistakes rank high in the frustration consumers experience at the grocery. Mistakes aren’t always the store’s fault; price tags do fall off. At the same time, there are times where the price in the POS is different from the price on the product.
The first place to start, therefore, is pricing. Investing in electronic shelf labels (ESL) will eliminate the dissonance that occurs when one employee enters a price into the POS system and another employee uses a pricing gun to stamp a price tag on an item. With a single back-end system managing both the POS and the pricing labels, prices will be accurate at the time of purchase.
For store managers, ESLs add an additional benefit, enabling optimized pricing changes on any item in the store. Optimized pricing allows physical grocery stores to compete on price, as well as easily change pricing on items that may be near their sell-by date. Groceries can decrease the price to encourage consumers to choose products that are nearing the end of their shelf life.
Digital price tags can be implemented quickly. Pricer reported they completely transitioned a supermarket to ESLs in just one night.
Introduce computer vision
Computer vision recognizes the items on your shelves and tracks them throughout the store. When a consumer picks up a box of cereal and puts it in the cart, the computer vision system recognizes that the available inventory has changed.
When inventory drops below a predetermined level, it can send an alert to employees, notifying them that there is a shortage on the shelf, and reminding them to stock up. The system can also be connected to the store’s inventory system, and trigger reorders as supplies dwindle.
For consumers, that means avoiding the frustration of empty shelves. However, the benefits of computer vision don’t stop with inventory.
Let’s put a few pieces together. We have digital pricing throughout the store and a computer system that recognizes items and can track their location. Taken to the next logical step, computer vision can be used at the end of a shopping trip to total up the groceries in the cart and present a bill to the customer. The customer can swipe a credit card at the register and leave the store without waiting in line.
In traditional grocery stores, consumers have to touch every item multiple times as it moves from the shelf to the cashier to a bag before it ends up in their pantry or fridge. With computer vision, consumers can take the item off the shelf, put it into a bag in their cart, and not touch it again until they get home. They eliminate long lines, and, as a bonus, reduce the likelihood that an employee will be rude to a customer.
Computer vision training models can be up and running relatively quickly, especially when compared to other artificial intelligence tools. Once running, they can also offer heat maps and other analytics to helps store managers simplify their layout.
The natural advantage of a physical store
When grocery stores introduce digital transformation to the store, they provide their customers with a similar shopping experience to that which is online. Consumers can’t walk through the aisles in their pajamas like they can while shopping online, but they can avoid many of the pitfalls that made in-store shopping uncomfortable.
Physical supermarkets have some natural advantages over their online rivals. Customers can actually choose the fruits and vegetables that they want, or take the carton of milk that is three weeks away from its expiration date. They aren’t at the mercy of an online picker who is more interested in closing the sale and moving on to the next order than carefully selecting the right red apple.
Shoppers can select their own substitutions if an item isn’t available, and when they have finished, they can bring their groceries home and use them immediately. That’s not something an online store can offer.
By combining the benefits of the digital world with the tactile grocery shopping experience, supermarkets have the tools they need to compete.