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.