OPINIONTechnology

Why Automation Wins for Grocers' Workforce

New technologies can free staff to spend more time engaging with customers
Grocery worker helping shopper on phone
Photograph: Shutterstock

The retail experience has changed dramatically over the past several years. From accelerated adoption of online grocery shopping during ongoing COVID-19 pandemic to the Great Resignation driving employees to seek more personal fulfillment in their work, retailers are coming to terms with the reality that they need to be much more strategic about how they incentivize retention among both customers and staff.

While automation will initially help drive faster, more convenient and personal shopping experiences for customers, it also offers unique possibilities to offset a challenging labor market as retailers scramble to attract and retain top talent.

Historically, automation has been met with alarm in the labor market, with many fearing that companies may be focused on technology to replace employees rather than support them. However, when the pandemic spurred the Great Resignation among workers who sought a rebalancing of their work life and home life, a shift in the labor market's power dynamic occurred. Workers started quitting their jobs in record fashion,citing low pay, a lack of opportunities for advancement and feeling disrespected as top reasons for leaving their jobs. The challenge for employers, especially in retail, became finding ways to blend the vital jobs needed to keep a store functional with more fulfilling and engaging work.

Luckily for retailers, tools now exist to automate some of the tedious tasks that kept staff from focusing on attentive customer service. In the past, retailers had to keep their staff essentially tethered to legacy point-of-sale (POS) technology that required constant attention to maintain and oversee.

Now, with automated technology taking on tasks ranging from replenishment activities to queue-busting, employers can increasingly ensure that their staff is in the right place at the right time—an imperative not only for meeting customers' service expectations but also creating a more engaging retail experience for shoppers and staff alike. With the right technology in place, stores have more opportunities than ever to empower staff and attract new talent.

For customers, the demand for reliable self-service solutions has been steadily growing. In astudy of more than 15,000 grocery shoppers by NielsenIQ and commissioned by Diebold Nixdorf, 81% of shoppers said they create a list for their grocery shopping beforehand, and 78% check the availability of items in stock online before they go shopping.

Customers are entering stores more prepared, often already armed with inventory data, so that when they arrive in the store, they know exactly what they’ll find and how long it will take to complete their transaction.

This means that the reliability and versatility of a store’s self-checkout solutions are crucial in maintaining customer satisfaction. By implementing technology that prevents friction in the self-checkout process, such as advanced, AI-based camera applications that recognize fresh produce or verify the age of a customer buying age-restricted items, stores can eliminate the most common areas of intervention that historically slow down the self-checkout process.

Ultimately, physical stores will remain the heartbeat of retail. Without expanded self-service and automation options, however, stores will find themselves lacking the critical infrastructure needed to succeed in retail's more-connected, more self-paced future.

NielsenIQ’s survey found that in just 15 months’ time, from December 2019 to March 2021, the share of U.S. grocery shoppers interested in using dedicated self-service stores increased by 16 percentage points from 34% to 50%. That share is expected only to grow with each new technological innovation in the retail space.

From self-checkout to personalized customer engagement, a full suite of cloud-ready software and modular hardware gives retailers a robust, future-proofed experience that addresses all the unique challenges across all retail segments. Continued automation in retail drives greater benefits than cost savings and provides an opportunity to address some of the most critical problems facing retailers today. Staff will be engaged; customers will be empowered; and that exchange of funds for goods will be more optimized.

Today’s customers are ready for the shopping journeys of tomorrow. Is your store?

Arvin Jawa is vice president of retail strategy at Diebold Nixdorf, Hudson, Ohio. Reach him at to dieboldnixdorf@fullyvested.com.

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