Published October 2, 2020
It’s Saturday afternoon and your grocery store is full of shoppers expecting to get every item on their grocery list. You’ve been in business long enough to know which items are going to go first with panic buying: the basics like water, bread, toilet paper and canned goods. You even know which of the more unusual items like strawberry Pop Tarts will be in high demand. But proactively working with your supply chain during a pandemic is no small feat, not to mention still trying to keep up with the basics to accurately stock your shelves.
To keep your shelves and displays well stocked, you’ll need to capture and use all the right data including the following:
Foot traffic—Analyzing foot traffic in your store is always key to keeping your shelves properly stocked. And, with the pandemic, that’s even more challenging. As reported by Grocery Dive, foot traffic in grocery stores is vacillating month to month as guidelines for handling COVID-19 change. But there are tools to help, like foot tracking counting systems, consumer predictive analytics and forecasting services. By using these tools and staying on top of your store’s foot traffic, you can better determine what needs to be ordered so your shelves are full and waste is reduced.
Know your customers—How well do you know the people who walk through the doors of your grocery store? How many of them are families with small children? How many are singles looking for smaller portions? Do they present a large demand for healthy food? What about their ethnicity and the need for an international aisle? Are they cooking complicated meals that call for herbs, for example? The more customer information you have the less likely you’ll run out of the items they’ve come to expect in your store—and there are plenty of technology-based tools to help you capture it.
Get a handle on less popular items—Keep an eye on how your less popular items are selling. How many of your customers would be upset if they were unable to find, for example, a particular flavor of quinoa? Regularly determining how niche products are selling and deciding which to discontinue can be a good way to save money. But you don’t want to do it at the expense of losing business.
Some of your customers choose to shop at your store simply because you carry one of their harder to find items. So, when you do decide to discontinue something, make sure you have a robust feedback outlet for your customers. Think about placing a sign near one of the removed items indicating that it’s been discontinued and, if they’d like to provide feedback, let them know where they can do it. Otherwise your customers are likely not going to say anything and simply find another store that sells it, risking the chance that they’ll buy all of their groceries there instead.
What leaves your store without a customer—Beyond tracking what your customers are buying, there are other ways products leave or don’t make it to your shelves. Things like damaged and broken goods, items that are discarded rather than sold, returns and theft all add up. Reducing waste also has benefits beyond fully stocked shelves.
As Forbes reports, the cost of food waste is more than double the potential profit it presents which adds up to an estimated 18.2 billion opportunity for grocers. One simple way you can reduce waste is to replace individual broken eggs with ones that don’t have cracks rather than throwing out the whole carton. That way, you not only help reduce the amount of food wasted each year (an estimated 72 billion pounds) it’s an inherent way to track your stock and save money.
You can also reduce waste and incorporate that into your brand. Today’s customers care about what the companies they interact with do in the world. Letting them know that you’re aware of food waste, how millions of Americans struggle to feed their families and that you’re doing something to help can boost customer loyalty.
The shelf life impact—Do you know the shelf life of your entire inventory and do you factor it into your stocking decisions? Tracking and identifying trends in throwing away certain items because they’ve expired are important data points. The flip side is true as well—if you’re running out of items well before they’re expired you’ll gain a better understanding of your customer’s demand. Curious about items that have the longest shelf life? The Daily Meal has you covered.
Supply chain management—So, you have a handle on foot traffic and you’re using customer data to help understand their buying habits and can accurately gauge when you need to replace particular items, but what about your supply chain? Ensuring that items arrive on time and intact can be a daunting task with many moving pieces in your supply chain. To help you with the process, there are services and inventory management software available to simplify and increase the reliability of your supply chain. For example, NCR Power Enterprise offers a suite of supply chain management and logistics software to help you manage the flow of goods and reduce the complexity of your supply chain.
How stocking data in a grocery store can improve the customer experience
Your customers have high expectations, particularly millennials and Gen Zs who are used to getting what they want and in ways that are convenient, easy and fast. So, the customer experience among grocery stores is competitive and accurate stocking is key.
No empty shelves—During the pandemic your customers are cutting your store some slack understanding that items like toilet paper and canned goods are harder to keep in stock. But they are also very aware of the supermarkets that are managing to keep those items in stock better than other stores. In general, having well stocked shelves that include even the hard to find niche items goes a long way in making your consumers happy.
Getting what they want—There is a good reason why grocery store cashiers ask customers if they found everything that they were looking for, because your customers need to get what they want, plain and simple. If the answer is “no” they didn’t find everything they wanted there’s a very good chance that they’ll go to your competitor to get it and if it happens enough times they’ll stop coming to your store or at least visit it less often.
Easy navigation—It may seem like a small thing, but your customers don’t want the inconvenience of having to move their carts around your staff as they stock shelves. And they don’t welcome the idea of needing to ask them to move so they can retrieve items; they’ve come to expect a high level of ease as they navigate your store. So, having your shelves stocked before you open or after you close is ideal, and during slow times when necessary.
The fresher the better—When you have a fully stocked store and your supply chain meets your customers needs and demands, you’re much more likely to present them with fresh food, particularly produce—and those demands are growing. According to Grocery Dive, 52 percent of your customers who buy organic are millennials and of them 52 percent are eating more fruits and vegetables than previous generations. They want their produce to be fresh and healthy and it’s a trend that’s only likely to increase. When your stocking data is accurate and always up to date, you’ll be in a better position to provide the freshest, healthiest produce possible.
Better customer service—When your shelves are stocked regularly your employees don’t have to put out restocking fires and that frees them up to attend to your shoppers. It’s not a great sign if many of your customers seem to be wandering your aisles seemingly lost without anyone around to assist them. And even the best supermarket layout that’s built with an understanding of how customers shop will still be faced with the problem of people looking for items that aren’t always easy to find. Great customer service includes having your employees watching for customers who look like they need assistance and providing it without the customer even needing to ask.
When you have the data you need to stock your shelves as efficiently as possible you’re bound to increase your bottom line.
Retain and attract customers—When a current shopper can rely on your store to have what they need and they’re able to shop conveniently and with ease they are much more likely to make your store their go-to for groceries. On top of that, they’ll likely, particularly during a pandemic and when other natural disasters strike, tell their friends and family that you have the products that they’re looking for. That, of course, means more business and less chance of losing business.
Reduce waste—Using accurate data gives you a much better chance of not over ordering a product that you end up throwing away because of either having too much or it’s on the shelf past it’s use-by date. You can save money with accurate stocking data that reduces waste.
Streamline your supply chain—You will reduce inefficiencies with a supply chain that runs smoothly and one that you can depend on to make deliveries on time. For example, when distribution center trucks aren’t held up, the chances of your produce arriving fresh and attractive is much more likely.
Lower labor costs—With the use of technology support to help you manage your supply chain you can also reduce the amount of time you and your employees take to make sure everything is always on track.
Without technology, getting a handle on stocking data involves a lot more people power and much more room for mistakes. Fortunately for grocery stores, there are many technology-fueled tools available to help in the tracking process.
Rely on an effective POS system—One of the last places where your customers interact with your store is when they pay for their items at your point of sale system. While its basic function of collecting money is crucial to your business, it’s also an excellent way to improve your inventory management and deliver information directly to an electronic device. That way, you can easily download the tracking information and rely on it to place orders. But not every POS system offers the same features. Check out what NCR can deliver for your POS system to see if it’s the right fit for your store.
Use in-store cameras—Many grocery operators are upping the use of cameras in their stores to give them the sort of insight into their customers that the online stores enjoy. By placing cameras inside and outside our store, you can track customers, gather information about them and send it to a central server to be processed and analyzed. Based on the analysis you can decide if your layout is serving your customers the best way, for example are your aisles easy to navigate? Also, cameras are being installed above shelves for inventory control and to determine your customers’ shopping behaviors, like which aisles they visit the most and which products they buy.
Gain third-party technology—There are many emerging technologies that can ease the burden of keeping up with fluctuating inventories. For example, Singapore’s Trax Image Recognition enables you and your employees to take pictures of shelves and then send them to be analyzed by an image recognition app. The results will be sent to an electronic device of your choice giving you valuable shelf information, including out-of-stock, display and branding data (some of your customers gravitate towards certain brands and you’ll want to make sure they are on your shelves and well displayed). Read more about some other exciting new grocery store technologies.
As you continue to navigate and adjust your grocery store operations during the pandemic, use this time to fine tune the use of your stocking data. After the pandemic you’ll be in great shape to keep your shelves well stocked, gain customer loyalty and be in a position to adjust if a major pivot becomes necessary.