For years, grocery and retail have been gradually adapting to technology. Now it's time to double-down.
For years, people have been thinking about how to redesign in-store retail experiences, including grocery store experiences, to better leverage technology and be more efficient in costs and operations.
The age of coronavirus forces us to accelerate this line of innovative thinking. Grocery store employees are beginning to die. Retail stores across the world are shuttered. We simply cannot afford to gather en masse in any environment until the spread of COVID-19 is contained and we have a solid infrastructure for testing, treatments, and ultimately vaccinations.
Obviously grocery stores, from large supermarkets to small neighborhood grocers and even restaurant wholesalers and other food suppliers must remain accessible in some way. Food is essential.
But we all have to stop holding onto the past. Old ideas don't work in a new world. We can't shop the way we used to.
For grocery stores or any other essential retail brick & mortar, there's a simple solution here that keeps everyone safe, employed, and may drive more efficiency...
It's past time to close every grocery store to the general public.
Think about what that means: Grocery stores put tons of energy into creating in-store experiences. Stocking shelves. Designing store flow. Putting away carts and baskets. Friendly cashiers. Helping you find the quick-cooking certified gluten-free polenta in aisle 3 no sorry aisle 10, no sorry here it is on that end cap. Cleanup in aisle 5.
We don't need to do any of that. We have great technology to facilitate online ordering. We have online chat and email and plain old phone calls to manage customer inquiries. We're inundated with personalization technology that can tailor the online store experience to each customer's preferences and needs. For the forward-thinking store-owner, there's even a ton of cool VR tech to facilitate remote shopping experiences.
To all the grocery store managers out there: Your customers don't need to come inside your stores.
This is true for every grocery store, supermarket, convenience store, etc., of any size.
Without customers in your stores, your staff can stop spending time on the in store experience: no more stocking shelves, no more designing end caps and displays. No more "help me find" questions. No more long cashier lines. Less customer-related cleanups. Less germs. Less COVID-19 risk.
Now, I'm not a grocery professional. My last retail job was at a Best Buy in 2001. But to me this seems like a no-brainer. Am I missing something?
Customers can order online and then pick up in your parking lots. They call if they have questions. Shelvers and cashiers can become order fulfillment staff. Verified shopping services like Instacart can supplement your order fulfillment staff. Delivery and shipping companies do their thing. You can arrange you parking lots into grids by first initial of last name, or order number, or silly cartoon character names, or whatever for customer pickup.
And maybe, just maybe, this perhaps drastic but logical shift away from in-store shopping will help the food supply chain recover a bit.
Maybe it will discourage hoarding. Maybe the online shopping portals can allow stores to implement reasonable limits on purchases of staples like flour and toilet paper.
Maybe the allergen-friendly and gluten-free and special diet-friendly products can be retained for those who really need them. Because food allergy parents should be able to feed their kids.
Because everyone has the right to a few rolls of toilet paper.
Because we have the technology. So let's use it.