Automated ordering eases employee burnout by reducing workload and gives stores more control over gross margins by forecasting COVID-driven demand spikes and drops.
With grocery store employees now recognized as essential workers and physical distancing measures likely to remain for the foreseeable future, employees are expected to do more now than ever.
A recent Food Industry Association member survey (March 17 to April 2, 2020) provides a snapshot into two of the critical issues facing food retailers and their workforce during the coronavirus pandemic.
Inventory management challenges
Management reported that some of the largest hurdles their businesses were facing include product availability, inventory management, and complete out-of-stock issues.
Computer Assisted Ordering began gaining prevalence in the early 90s and is still common today. But as COVID-19 shakes up the grocery industry, retailers are looking to technology to help gain back control of fluctuating demand, inventory levels, and most importantly, profit margins.
Invafresh’s Computer Generated Ordering feature looks at past demand trends for a product, together with forecasted demand, current backroom and sellable inventory levels, safety stock, and presentation minimums to make an accurate order recommendation. Used in conjunction with a perpetual inventory system, Computer Generated Ordering enables stores to optimize inventory and work in a leaner, more just-in-time model.
Computer Generated Ordering ensures that supermarkets can preemptively identify sudden spikes and dips in demand, helping to ease the out-of-stock and inventory management issues most grocers are facing right now.
Workforce burnout and illness
Many FMI survey respondents said their workforces have taken a hit as well, reporting being short staffed and struggling to hire enough labor to meet increased shopping demand. Absenteeism was also a growing concern as employees fell ill or did not want to work because of the fear of infection. The United Food and Commercial Workers International (UFCW) has reinforced this concern, reporting that over 5,000 of its members are away from work right now due to coronavirus-related medical reasons.
Forty-three percent of survey participants said store managers working long hours was a major concern, and many noted both employees and management were experiencing burnout and stress.
Kroger released its retail operations blueprint, sharing its COVID-19 health and safety best practices with other manufacturers and retailers. While these measures are important to help flatten the curve, they are added responsibilities piling on top of already-stressed staff’s daily tasks. As companies build out their post-pandemic recovery plans, things like increased cleaning, crowd control to ensure physical distancing standards are met, extra manpower to pick online orders and additional internal health and safety protocols will all be mandatory priorities. Grocers can either choose to hire more staff or use technology to automate time-consuming tasks and improve old processes.
Computer Generated Ordering frees up much-needed time
Going forward, investing in an automated ordering solution can help decrease order time from hours to minutes. Implementing a perpetual inventory system leads to further process improvements, as stores can shift from daily to multi-day cycle counts, only checking inventory a few times a week because of the perpetual inventory’s accuracy.
While some of the frequent out-of-stocks stores are experiencing are because of supply chain and fulfillment challenges, others are caused by stores not being able to identify consumer trends that are evolving day by day. Our forecast engine can quickly pick up on these micro-trends and alert grocers, helping to ensure adequate product availability and minimizing out-of-stocks whenever possible.
The process is deceptively simple: order recommendations are processed overnight, and staff can review and complete the order in the morning. Computer Generated Ordering is fast and simple.
It does an incredible amount of behind-the-scenes analysis – things you could never expect even the most experienced manager to do for hundreds or even thousands of items at one time:
– What is the balance on-hand right now?
– What will be the balance on-hand tomorrow when the delivery truck arrives?
– Is it on promo right now?
– Is it a hot-selling seasonal item?
– Do we have too much stock?
– Are sales being cannibalized by another item?
– Are we verging on an imminent 100% out-of-stock and need to find a replacement vendor?
– Are we meeting corporate’s minimum display quantities?
Over the longer term, experts recommend retailers create a strategic action plan to rebuild a feeling of trust and security with customers, to build loyalty and bring them back to brick-and-mortar locations. Essential to creating that feeling of trust and security is ensuring staff have a manageable workload, have adequate time to complete COVID-related tasks, and are not wasting time on tedious tasks like stock checking and manual ordering. Computer Generated Ordering can take over the ordering process, freeing up staff.