Supermarket sales and profits have been one of the few bright spots during the Covid-19 pandemic, but brands and retailers should be wary of a “business as usual” mentality. In fact, some of the changes to the retail landscape may be permanent. Consumer behaviors and shopping habits have changed, and retailers need to adjust accordingly to stay ahead of this “new normal.”
Shoppers expect everything on their lists to be on store shelves. Good inventory management can no longer ensure that happens, as consumer shopping behavior continues to evolve due to the Covid-19 crisis. A study by McKinsey & Company showed that 75% of shoppers in the United States have changed their shopping habits and switched brands for value and convenience reasons. Furthermore, these changes may not be temporary: Four-fifths intend to stay with their newly adopted shopping preferences.
Although economies are opening and people are returning to work, social distancing in every conceivable public space is likely to be the norm for the foreseeable future. In my role at Trax — a company that offers flexible workforce solutions and digitizes the physical world of retail with tools to help retailers track, monitor and gauge the performance of merchandise — I’ve seen first hand how up-to-date shelf data will be essential as consumer behavior continues to shift, providing a more complete understanding of what’s happening in each store and allowing the allocation of supplies to meet as much shopper demand as possible.
Rethink your labor model
Retailers need to reshape their workforce to support the new normal and to accommodate potential future disruptions. At the same time, consumer product companies need to reevaluate their strategic store priorities in brand marketing, assortment and space as shopping behavior continues to change.
So, what kind of workforce model can best service a retailer’s business needs and address critical issues in the store? In-store merchandising, inventory management, data collection and other activation-level tasks can all be transferred to an on-demand mobile workforce, or even gig economy workers.
With this model, brand tactics can be implemented rapidly and at scale. Rethinking the workforce gives you a number of advantages, including the ability to cater to a surge capacity with peak loads, such as product introductions or planogram changes. Such resources can be deployed where and when they’re needed — even if that’s in thousands of stores for less than an hour on one particular day.
This model can also be combined with the automation of some or all of the relatively low-value, but high-cost, activities such as shelf audits, planogram compliance, and maintaining and managing shelf tags.
An on-demand workforce could be a viable solution
As brands work with improving access to AI-powered technology to get better insights, the key question becomes: How do I get into the store? A crowd-based, on-demand workforce might be the answer, allowing brands to quantify the store. Of all the possible tasks that could be performed during that visit, which will have the biggest impact?
Such questions can be answered in real time: The representative arrives and takes photographs of the relevant parts of the store to help quantify the current situation (assuming fixed cameras are not installed), and the analytics generate a task list. These visits could be used for packing out the shelf or for a shelf reset, depending on what is needed.
Insights and data — combined with traditional point-of-sale data — promote more productive and candid discussions between manufacturers and retailers. Perhaps you are considering delisting an item because its overall sales contribution isn’t where you want it to be. Combining the sales and in-store data could prove that the item has had frequent out-of-stocks. If that’s the case, you could then give it more shelf space, reset the shelf minimum or investigate supply chain issues.
The bottom line: Supermarket retailers should embrace automation and rethink their retail workforce
Integrating computer vision and analytics technology with the right type of flexible workforce can help keep products on shelves — resulting in happier shoppers and improved revenue for retailers and brands — and provide the agility needed to emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic as a growth leader.
This article first appeared on Forbes.