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Adapt to Survive in Grocery Retail: Guide to Building a Fully Automated Supermarket

January 2, 2023

The grocery retail industry is under immense pressure. Higher costs of managing supply chains, market volatility, inflation, higher investments to match new competition, and rising labor costs collectively have shaken the sustainability of grocery businesses. In addition, customer expectations continue to surge, raising the bar for personalized service. As a result, retailers are struggling to adapt and, to some extent, even survive in this new realm of digital transformation, where fully automated supermarkets are the next big thing.  

Automation Is No Longer a Choice; It’s a Necessity

Unlike giants such as Amazon, where “innovate, invent and think big” are core leadership principles, most grocery retailers simply focus on making incremental changes, which offer minimal value. In the competitive landscape of digital disruption, the “less is the better” approach could mean getting crushed in the stampede of supermarkets, grocerants, and other eCommerce retail giants.  

The pressures of costs are not new, and passing the costs onto customers in the hypercompetitive environment is no longer viable. As a solution, retailers have started using automation to maximize efficiency, ensure a seamless customer journey, and bolster margins. It’s safe to say that automation is no longer a choice; it’s a requirement.  

Building a Fully Automated Supermarket: Exploring the Customer Experience Side

In grocery retail, automation can streamline labor-intensive practices. It can also reduce task repetition, create opportunities for fostering creativity and boost the business bottom line.  

Automation can penetrate different parts of the grocery value chain from within stores, supply chains, and corporate centers. However, with so many processes that can be automated, it is overwhelming to start.

In this blog's first series, we will explore the customer experience side of building a fully automated supermarket. Let’s begin your store’s journey of automation:

1. Join the eCommerce Bandwagon

At the most basic level, automation begins with investing in a grocery eCommerce platform for brick-and-mortar stores that don’t have an eCommerce presence. And if you already have an online presence, it’s time to take the next step: build a mobile app.

Research by McKinsey says that grocery eCommerce is one of the leading COVID-era trends that’s likely to become permanent. This means now is the right time to start thinking about moving your grocery retail operations online. When exploring your options in a grocery eCommerce platform, look for the one that has the potential to facilitate a cohesive omnichannel experience and add value to your overall business model.  

2. Invest in a Point of Sale (POS) System

Your fully automated supermarket will be incomplete without a Point of Sale system. This means replacing your old-fashioned cash register with a POS system. A POS calculates the sum of items the consumer is interested in buying, processes the payments, and then reflects the sales in the inventory. This system lets you know which and how many products you have sold on a daily/monthly basis. The quantity of stock left in the warehouse and how much money you’ve made. Some of the futuristic grocery solutions, such as 365 Super and Hypermarkets Solution offer best-in-class POS systems with added features like bulk-price update mechanism, item and category management, discounts, and promotions management alongside controls over staff privileges.

You will need a computer(s) and POS software to install a POS system in your store. Besides these, you will also need a POS system hardware, including a barcode scanner, cash drawer, monitor, receipt printer, programmable keyboard, touch screen, and handheld terminals.  

3. Set Up Cashier-Less Counters

Another way to introduce automation in your supermarket is to invest in cashier-less checkout. A typical solution consists of overhead cameras and sensors deployed on shelves to enable store-level checkout. The moment a shopper walks into the store; this advanced system notifies them of where exactly the product is placed. Then, the shopper simply grabs the product from the shelf and leaves the store without interacting with the cashier. All payments happen wirelessly via digital wallets connected to the store’s app.

Supermarkets worldwide have taken different approaches to cashier-less checkouts, such as:  

Smart Shelves

This involves using computer vision mounted on ceilings and shelves with advanced sensors for detecting when a shopper picks an item from a shelf. Smart shelves offer a cost-effective way to update product pricing, deliver rich media, and make product selection easier.  

These smart shelves interact with the customer via a mobile app. The sensors on the shelves notify the shopper when they approach an item. For instance, the app can show a deal on the bread they always purchase. Likewise, if a shopper uses the store's app to create a shopping list, the smart shelves show them where to find the item so that they can just grab it, make payment via the digital wallet attached to the app and head home.  

Smart Carts and Baskets

AI and sensors have moved from shelves and ceilings to carts as well. As soon as the shopper places an item in the basket or cart, it detects which item was placed and in what quantity. In addition, the cart has a credit card reader. Once the shopper is done, they can check out and go home without interacting with a cashier!  

Touchless Checkout Kiosks

These kiosk stations in a fully automated supermarket feature overhead cameras for verifying and charging customers for their purchases. Kiosk uses computer vision to verify the items once customers are done shopping. Shoppers can use their credit cards to pay for the items without scanning a barcode.  

Self-Scanning

Some stores still require customers to scan items themselves. However, once the items are scanned, checkout becomes quick and simple. One example of self-scanning is via the grocery store’s mobile app. The customer can scan products as soon as they add them to the basket. Once they are finished shopping, they have to scan a QR code at the kiosk to verify that the items added to the cart match those scanned via the mobile app, pay the bill, and that’s it.

Summing Up

The grocery retail landscape has been in flux for the last two decades. Automation hasn't just evolved it further but has served as a golden key to success for grocers worldwide. With that being said, grocery businesses can profoundly benefit from building a fully automated supermarket, ultimately positively impacting customer experience and improving the store’s bottom line.  

Do you believe that technology isn’t your best forte but are interested in embracing the path to digital acceleration? Experts at Confiz can help you get started on the journey of building a fully automated supermarket and digitizing your grocery retail business. Contact us to schedule a discovery call for a free consultation.

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