Kicking off the final morning of GroceryTech, presented by RIS and Progressive Grocer in Cincinnati, EnsembleIQ’s VP of Research Beth Brickel treated the audience to an overview of the “2023 Grocery Tech Trends Study: A Balancing Act,” as well as exclusive data not included in the study.
To start, she pointed out that when grocers are asked about their tech investments, 57% of retailers expect their tech/automation spend to increase in 2023.
“We've got more than half [of grocers] saying they're interested in exploring digital shelves more and getting close to that with electronic shelf labels. But even further down, you can see over a third [interested in] several other ones in store: robotics, smart carts, VR, AR, customer experiences…so certainly looking, looking towards more of those cutting edge solutions.”
When turning to the results from the shopper survey, Brickel said self-checkout leads as the most preferred method of checkout.
“When we look specifically at our Gen Z and millennials, it's even more. For Gen Z self-checkout is preferred by 66%. Two out of three [shoppers] say, I would rather check out at a kiosk for groceries than with a cashier. So I expect that's going to continue to move and, and it'll be interesting to see if the just walk out cashless stores also continue to grow.”
Online shoppers are most frustrated with out-of-stocks (50%), she also noted, and retailers and shoppers agree on the number one feature desired — digital discounts.
“When we ask retailers ‘what will grocery customers value most over the next 12 to 18 months,’ where we see that agreement is on the top, they want more digital discounts and promotions. But shoppers are also agreeing with that saying, ‘yes, I want more digital discounts and promotions.’”
Brickel then turned to asking the panelists questions, beginning with labor concerns around frontline workers and workforce technology.
Nick Klein, senior director, Enterprise Solution Sales, Dematic, kicked off, noting that his experience lies with the distribution center (DC). When talking about fully automated DCs, he said “the typical warehouse worker is intimated by that, when they hear us coming. Maybe 20 years ago that would be the case, but today, that's not the case. Automation doesn't displace jobs.”
He explained that the user interface build into these systems makes it very easy for the employee to operate. “They're guided to what to do next. They know exactly which product to pick, out of which box, and then which tote to put it into, step by step.”
He gave a story of how a Walgreens executive once said that he wanted these facilities to be easy enough that his autistic son could work there. “Long story short, the user interface at these facilities… are such that a heavily autistic people can work there.” He noted 40% of the workforce in those facilities have some kind of a disability. “There’s a lot we can do with user interface…it’s nothing to be afraid of.”
Arvin Jawa, VP, Global Retail Strategy & Marketing, regional VP, Americas Retail, Diebold Nixdorf, explained that his experience is with workers in the store. When looking at "how can we engage the staff?" the store associates create that memorable experience and seamless type of feeling for the end consumer.
“So it's critical that we engage the staff early on when we deploy our solutions or when our retailers are deploying our solutions. And that engagement really has to come very much like in the form of a game.”
Brickel later noted that 75% of shoppers are open to trying new tech in grocery stores, “so don't be afraid to invest,” but 44% are afraid of tech replacing the human team members in grocery. “How can grocers remain that human touch?”
“When you're tethered to the point of sale, you can't help customers out on the floor, right?" Jawa asked. “We’re training for different skills.” He noted that automation has its place, but as consumers want to have a more tech driven experience, we have to find that blend and balance. When the staff are engaged with the tech, they train the customers to use it in the store and tech adoption is better.
Klein weighed in that, when e-commerce became a thing, it got busier in the aisles form employees picking orders, so grocers implemented new technology, such as micro fulfillment centers. “So we have a kind of technology sits in the back end of the store, takes the majority of those picks and automates them in the backend and eliminates these employees that are picking customer orders on the floor. So there's a use of technology where, I think for the consumer, it was welcome that there was a little bit more space in the aisle because we moved the picks into the back room and have taken them off the floor.” This is the positive side of reducing the number of employees in the store through automation.