Category Archives: Process improvement

Process Improvement at Walmart for Next-Gen Fulfillment Centers

A recent SupermarketNews article reported the grand opening of Walmart’s 1.1M square-foot Next Generation fulfillment center, which will enable faster processing and delivery of on-line orders to wider geographic areas. The new concept facility will also bring about new jobs.

The piece quoted James Bright III, general manager, Fulfillment Center FC3040, who said, “As the first-of-its-kind for Walmart, our newly opened facility introduces an array of opportunities to our associates, including brand new tech-focused jobs. There’s never been a more exciting time to join Walmart Supply Chain.”

Process Improvement
The new center will be the first of four next-gen FCs that will feature a new patent-pending process that is “powered by the combination of people, robotics and machine learning,” the article said. “This process will set a new precedent in fulfillment speed by streamlining a manual twelve-step process to just five steps. Once completed, the four new state-of-the-art FCs for Walmart could provide 75 percent of the U.S. population with next- or two-day shipping.”

Read the full article…

Process Improvement at Kroger Stores Aimed at Better Customer Service

A recent SupermarketNews article announced that the Kroger Co. is working with Itasca Retail, an inventory tech company, to deploy a new software system for receiving deliveries.

The “Magic DSD” solution will be installed in nearly 2,800 Kroger stores enabling a direct-store delivery system that automates various receiving tasks for products such as bread, dairy, beer and soft drinks, which will be delivered directly to the stores rather than to distribution centers.

The piece went on to share a statement that this approach reduces out-of-stocks and saves labor costs, and also gives associates more time to focus on serving customers.

Read the full article…

Will “Pay by Palm” Be the Next Thing?

A recent Progressive Grocer article reported that Austin Texas has become the first region outside the Seattle area where Whole Foods Market is offering Amazon One’s palm recognition service as a payment option.

In order to facilitate an easier and potentially faster check-out process, this new technology enables customers who have enrolled in the program to simply come to the checkout counter or point of sale, hover their hand over the Amazon One device for about a second or so, and the card linked to their palm will be charged for their purchase.

According to the article, “enrollment in the Amazon One service takes less than a minute, which involves linking credit/debit card info and creating palm signatures for one or both palms.”

The piece goes on to explain that a palm signature is created when a customer holds their palm over the Amazon One device, allowing the technology to evaluate multiple aspects of the palm. With no two palms alike, vision technology analyzes all aspects to select the most distinct identifiers on a palm to create a unique palm signature.”

Another example of emerging technology that can improve the grocery shopping experience.

Big Y, schnucks leveraging innovation for improving customer experience

Innovative improvements in retail operations, pricing, merchandising, and customer service have been the norm over the past eighteen months, and the trend is continuing at a rapid pace.

Progressive Grocer recently reported on two prime examples.

Big Y Foods, one of New England’s largest independently owned supermarket chains, is enhancing its fleet logistics with new trailers equipped with state of the art refrigeration units and an electronic platform for remote monitoring and control.

The eSolutions platform provides continuous visibility of Big Y’s cold-chain assets via a centralized data stream that monitors trailer temperatures, location and movement, and also enables remote control of refrigeration units. The platform also:

  • Provides notifications as trailers come and go from geofenced areas assigned to Big Y’s distribution center and key locations within its retail network.
  • Finds unused or underused trailer assets, including those dropped by Big Y’s third-party logistics provider at vendor partners, where they may be idle for a few days until loaded.
  • Monitors trailer precooling time to minimize fuel waste.
  • Optimizes refrigeration unit performance for fuel efficiency and product protection.
  • Helps avoid emergency call-out situations in which a refrigeration unit must be re-primed because it ran out of fuel. Fuel level monitoring sensors send dispatchers low-fuel alerts via eSolutions, and units can be programmed to automatically shut down before they run out of fuel.
  • Shortens refrigeration unit uptime through the use of continuous analytic and diagnostic information

On a different front, St. Louis based Schnuck Markets Inc. has announced that it will be the first grocer to use a Check In feature provided by GetUpside.

Shoppers can use the free GetUpside mobile app to take advantage of personalized cashback promotions of up to 20%. The new Check In feature will make it easier for customers to earn cash back as, instead of snapping and submitting a picture of a receipt, they can just click “Check in” and GetUpside will verify each transaction.

These innovations are just two examples of how many of today’s supermarket chains are leveraging innovation and technology to improve processes and to provide a better customer experience.

Amazon Reduces Waste with New ‘Curbside Recyclable’ Delivery Packaging

SupermarketNews recently reported that Amazon has unveiled a new sustainable food packaging solution for the point of delivery.

The article referenced a statement from Stephenie Landry, vice president of Amazon Grocery, indicating perishables deliveries from Amazon Fresh and Whole Foods Market now will come in “curbside recyclable” insulated paper packaging.

“Rolling out just in time for Thanksgiving, Amazon’s new packaging is made from recycled paper and is curbside recyclable. Whether customers are ordering turkey, green beans, or frosty pints of ice cream, chilled and frozen foods from Amazon Fresh and Whole Foods Market will arrive insulated in packaging that is easy and convenient for customers to recycle at home.”

As part of Amazon’s overall sustainability effort, they say the new packaging will replace of the plastic liners and bubble bags that are often used to insulate chilled and frozen items. It will also cut back on material waste they claim, replacing about 735,000 pounds of plastic film, 3.15 million pounds of natural cotton fiber and 15 million pounds of non-recyclable mixed plastic annually.

Key considerations in developing the new packaging included sending less material to landfills and more back into the circular economy loop while ensuring that the insulated material properly chilled the food inside and was compact, flexible, easily recyclable, inexpensive and scalable, according to a company spokesperson.

Albertson Companies Leveraging Tech to Engage Customers

A recent SupermarketNews article reported that Albertsons Companies, operators of over 2,200 supermarkets, has launched a consumer loyalty and shopper rewards program using the app Fetch Rewards. The new program’s goal is to increase customer engagement levels and to extend the reach of its customer rewards.

The app will enable Albertsons to extend exclusive, individualized offers from its family of stores.

The article quoted Usman Humayun, vice president of digital marketing at Albertsons, who said, “We’re constantly looking at innovative and relevant ways to engage with our customers, and after seeing such strong results, we decided to expand the Fetch Rewards pilot to additional stores. This relationship is a win-win for our company and for our customers who use Fetch to earn rewards on grocery, retail and restaurant purchases.”

This is another good example of how retailers can leverage technology to provide greater levels of customer interaction and value. If our research and experience are on target, the fact that this type of program allows for “individualized” messaging and marketing will significantly increase its impact.

Read the full article…

What Supermarkets Can Learn from C-Stores

Several of our posts have focused on the importance of innovation and the customer experience, and how retailers must make continuous improvement in these areas a priority. Along those lines, a recent SupermarketNews article shared some interesting insights on the significant success the country’s 153,000+ convenience stores (c-stores) have experienced due to making ongoing improvements via “digital transformation.”

The piece quoted Scott Langdoc, a strategist specializing in the grocery chain, drug, and convenience/fuel retailing segments at Amazon Web Services, who said, “By focusing digital transformation efforts on supporting emerging customer journeys, optimizing product and service offerings, and prioritizing efficiency of retail operations, c-store retailers are working with Amazon Web Services (AWS) to double down on innovation while recovering revenue and attracting new customers.”

The article went on to explain the different product fulfillment expectations at c-stores, which include fuel fill-up, basic snack and beverage purchases, buying prepared foods like pizza or sandwiches, a quick errand for a household necessity or a combination of those scenarios.

Langdoc also noted that, more frequently, customers expect a personalized experience regardless of how or where they engage in the c-store.

Examples given included:

  • While a customer pumps fuel, they order a slice of pizza at the dispenser via a voice-activated order system and use their mobile phone to pay for both the pizza and their fuel.
  • A shopper buys a fountain drink in a store and gets a personalized discount to buy fuel as an incentive because the customer hasn’t purchased fuel at that station in the last month.
  • A customer grabs the items they want to buy at an Amazon Go store and walks out without having to stand in line to pay at a traditional cash register.

The Bottom Line
While recognizing that fuel remains the top selling c-store product category, the article concluded by suggesting, “in-store product sales and an extensive prepared food menu represent the largest overall sales growth categories, and on average, they are the biggest contributor to overall gross profit.”

Therefore, retailers should focus on capturing the broadest spectrum of transaction details possible and applying the analytics and machine learning to generate hyper-accurate predictions of future demand.

“This transaction detail can help optimize category plans, profitable private label assortments, high-selling menu offerings, and better in-store stock availability,” the article said.

Read the full article…

Supermarkets Leveraging Technology & Innovation to Make Continuous Improvements

Recent Progressive Grocer articles have highlighted a variety of examples of how supermarket chains are leveraging technology and innovation to make ongoing improvements in operations and the customer experience.

For example, Save Mart Cos., based in Modesto, Calif., is investing in robots that automatically audit store shelves to ensure that products are stocked and in the right location. The initiative involves a partnership with Simbe Robotics of San Francisco. The robots, named “Tally,” will first be deployed in seven stores. They are able to scan up to 30,000 products a day, helping retailers “reduce out-of-stocks by up to 30% and redirecting store staff to personally interact with shoppers.”

flex postAnother example of innovative thinking in response to shifting consumer shopping habits involves new products designed to improve curbside pick-up, which many industry leaders believe is here to stay. FlexPost® helps retailers manage traffic and keep people safe during curbside pickup trips. These flexible signposts and bollard systems can claim to reduce parking lot repair and maintenance costs, and also minimize the impact of minor collisions with customer vehicles.

Finally, in honor of Earth Day a number of organizations have come out with announcements this week about their sustainability efforts, ranging from waste reduction to regenerative farming to net zero energy use.

Among those we found most interesting are:

  • Four Stop & Shop stores in Massachusetts are piloting a Flashfood mobile app that shares sales pricing on perishables that are close to their best-by date. Stop & Shop has a goal of reducing food waste by 50% by 2030.
  • Given concerns about package waste associated with home delivery services, HelloFresh reported this week that it is teaming up with Pratt Industries to switch to cardboard packaging made of 100% post-consumer recycled content for its HelloFresh and EveryPlate meal kits. The company estimated that the move will help reduce GHG emissions by 6,800 tons and save more than 115,000 trees a year.
  • C&S Wholesale Grocers outlined several areas in which the company is preserving the environment, working to eliminate waste and reducing its carbon footprint. Among those sustainability steps, the C&S reports that it is improving fuel efficiencies in its fleets, including piloting trailer reefers on zero emission technology and tractor fleets on non-fossil fueled power in key markets.

Tech-Driven Improvements an Emerging Trend in Supermarkets

The mounting demand for e-commerce due to COVID-19, and the expectation that it will be necessary to continue offering many of the “new normal” services post-COVID, has resulted in a number of grocery chains making major changes to their infrastructure and improvements in their processes.

As reported by SupermarketNews, some of the process and facility enhancements include:

  • Conversion of store or shelf-space to accommodate online order fulfillment
  • Creation of automated micro-fulfillment centers (MFC’s) to support automated fulfillment for grocery delivery, sometimes referred to as “dark stores” since they have no retail space
  • Curbside pickup
  • Installation of automated pickup points, enabling customers and delivery personnel to drive up, scan a code and retrieve their orders

The expectation is that those retailers who are able to convert store space or operate MFC’s will be better able to scale their business as the demand for e-commerce continues to grow.

“For grocers to adapt and stay relevant — and for consumers to eat the cost of the last mile — grocery retailers need to embrace curbside pickup,” said Rob Wilson and Shang Saavedra in a recent report from L.E.K. Consulting.

“Given that stores are designed for optimal in-store shopping, it’s often inefficient for staff to wander through aisles to assemble orders and, when it comes to operating margins, far from sustainable. Moreover, stores have been forced to quickly create online pickup areas, leading to messy front-of-store experiences for consumers.”

Clearly the costs associated with some of the major changes such as building stand-alone MFC’s favor the larger retailers. One possible solution for smaller chains might be the use of “solution partners” to get the job done.

Either way, and as noted in a recent SupermarketNews article, all indicators say that online grocery shopping and curbside pickup are here to stay.

Is Your Supermarket “Digitally Mature?”

A recent study by digital insights firm Incisiv named BJ’s Wholesale Club, Publix, Brookshire Grocery, Target and Costco Wholesale among the nation’s most “digitally mature” grocery retailers, according to a recent SupermarketNews article.

Incisiv defined digitally mature grocery retailers as those that “invest in their front-end shopping platform as well as back-end integration, fulfillment, customer service and operational excellence to deliver an optimal, end-to-end customer experience.”

As technology continues to march forward at an increasingly rapid pace, it will be interesting to see if the process enhancements also enhance customer engagement.