Grocery Frontlines Brace for an Onslaught of Technology Upgrades

RIS’s Grocery Tech Trends Report shows that more than half of grocers are increasing their YoY tech spend in 2022.

February 22, 2022

It’s been a heck of a few weeks for grocery store workers across the country. 

Last Sunday marked the intersection of Super Bowl Sunday and Valentine’s Day, and stores filled up with football-shaped beer endcaps and terraced displays of red roses. 

Then came Presidents Day: a three-day weekend for most Americans (except those working on the grocery frontlines) with an influx of customers looking for deals.

But throughout this “grocery gauntlet” of customer expectations, frontline grocery workers have still another set of demands to contend with – the onslaught of new in-store technology implementations. 

Retail Info Systems (RIS) published their annual Grocery Tech Trends report this month, and the findings are staggering: More than half (54%) of grocers are increasing their year-over-year tech spend in 2022.

The reasons behind grocers’ investments are plain to see. Historic supply chain issues, labor shortages, and the ongoing Covid-19 health crisis are currently pushing grocery store operations to the limit. In order to maintain a safe, memorable, and engaging customer experience, grocery retailers must look towards the future. And the future is better technology.

Unfortunately, better technology cannot be implemented without increasing demands on grocery’s already overloaded frontline workforce. From e-commerce upgrades to point-of-sale improvements, nearly every grocery technology upgrade comes with this hidden cost.

Omnichannel expectations are rising

In the RIS survey, grocers reported that nearly a quarter (24%) of their total sales are allocated to digital channels. This means that one in four customers are taking advantage of omnichannel services like curbside pickup, click and collect, home delivery, or pickup lockers.  

On top of dealing with high customer omnichannel expectations, many grocers are tackling technology upgrades in this area. For instance, 21% of grocers are currently implementing new e-commerce platforms – and another 15% will start implementation in the next 12 months. 

Though these are dubbed “digital capabilities,” all of them require one or more hardworking grocery employees on the back end to bring them to life. Curbside pickup orders must be carried to the parking lot. Pickup lockers must be loaded. Home delivery orders must be collected and categorized. 

The hidden cost of in-store technology upgrades

“Grocers report a slew of POS investments over the next 12 months,” states the report, “with POS peripherals, software, and hardware all receiving major overhauls at more than 1 out of 5 grocers.”

Point-of-sale upgrades are the foundation on which most in-store technology enhancements are built. Without an up-to-date POS, grocers can’t process contactless payments, execute click-and-collect orders, or allow for self-service checkout – all things customers have come to expect from their neighborhood stores.

But a POS upgrade doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It requires immense coordination between grocery headquarters teams, vendor teams, and – yep – frontline workers. Implementing a new POS often means several registers must be offline for hours at a time, requiring workers to perform more manual workarounds. Stores need to be staffed up to deal with these complexities, which usually requires on-call shifts. Business as usual grinds to a halt but customer expectations remain high – and frontline employees are caught in the crossfire. 

Workforce technology still lags behind

While 1 in 5 grocers are planning in-store technology upgrades and 1 in 4 have e-commerce upgrades on the horizon, only 1 in 10 are focusing on improving the kind of technology that enables their workforce to successfully implement these upgrades: namely, training and task management technology.

According to the RIS report, only 33% of grocers believe they have up-to-date task management technology in place, and less than half have proper education and training capabilities for their frontline fleet. Furthermore, a third of grocers surveyed have no plans at all to start upgrading their workforce technology in the next 24 months.

The math simply doesn’t add up. 

Many grocers are going to tackle big technology projects this year without the proper workforce infrastructure in place. They’ll roll out a new POS but lack the ability to track the execution of that roll-out in the field using a task management system. They’ll launch a new e-commerce platform but neglect the necessary training to ensure frontline teams understand how that new platform impacts their day-to-day work. 

And in this way, they’re betting on big financial investments that will likely fall short.

To upgrade your technology, start by enabling your field teams

Finding skilled, reliable workers to keep shelves stocked and checkout queues moving has proven to be a monumental undertaking for the grocery industry. In fact, 74% of grocers cite the tight labor market as a major obstacle to overcome in the next 18 months.

Grocers have to increase their digital and in-store capabilities in order to keep pace with rapidly changing customer expectations. But slapping upgrades on top of a crumbling workforce infrastructure will surely end in failure. In order to ensure their investments in new technology are worthwhile, grocers need to first lay the proper foundation to enable the employees who bring those technologies to life.

Zipline is the field enablement platform we wished we had when we worked in stores. It quiets the noise and prioritizes the work for field teams. It puts everything in one place and gives employees the context they need to get their jobs done. Zipline gives you the agility you need to have more control over your business. It allows you to pivot quickly, roll out strategic initiatives and ensure your whole company is aligned.

If you’d like to learn more about how Zipline can ensure your technology upgrades are executed correctly, and on time, reach out today.

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