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Retail Pulse: Shelf space utilization during COVID-19

Real-time, SKU-level shelf data provides retail with a unique opportunity to understand how panic shopping during the COVID-19 outbreak is reflected on the shelves of grocery stores, throughout the day.

From our data, we found that, in a typical store, some product categories which are normally well-stocked saw up to a ten-fold decrease in shelf space utilization during the third week of March 2020. This metric, indicating how full the shelves are is calculated as ([number of product facings]/ [number of product facings + number of empty spaces in category]).

Shelves stocking food categories like bread rolls and soups as well as non-food items like diapers were barely half-full during this week, compared to normal days when they were 90% full.

Shelves with key product categories barely half-full

(week ending Mar 20, 2020 Vs. week before epidemic started)

In tracking the diaper category at a large retail store in Europe, we found that the retailer was struggling to meet rising shopper demand when the epidemic reached its peak. As seen in the graph below, on May 18 the diaper shelf was 70% empty. Restocking the shelf took nearly 9 hours suggesting a shortage in inventory ordered. But the situation began to improve over the following two weeks, as shelves returned to near-normal “fullness” of about 85% and the time taken to plug empty spaces on shelf took just over an hour.

Diaper category: Slowly returning to normal availability levels

(Mar 1 to Apr 14, 2020 at a large retail store)

Like any retailer adapting to the challenges posed by the pandemic, this store chain is also retooling stores, logistic facilities and supplier networks. In addition, they minutely track changes to on-shelf inventory throughout the day and use real-time data to:

  • Know when an out-of-shelf instance occurs
  • Restock shelves faster so shoppers find what they need more often than not

The opportunity: Autonomous shelf monitoring

With continuous shelf data delivered by Trax, retailers can find insights that are hard to uncover using just store delivery data or sales data – such as the duration for which each out-of-stock instance persists on shelf and the resulting sales loss.

In these uncharted times, retailers have the opportunity to boost operational flexibility they need to improve on-shelf availability for essential items. By continuously monitoring gaps and empty spaces on shelves using autonomous means (for example, camera vision), retailers can

  • Ensure store staff focus on replenishment and shopper experience rather than store walks
  • Adapt last-mile execution and fulfillment to shopper demand better
  • Improve store operations, merchandising efficiency and overall customer experience

To learn more, join our upcoming webinar “How Covid-19 is Highlighting the Opportunity for Autonomous Monitoring of On-Shelf Availability” in collaboration with Coresight Research.

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