Grocers embrace new tech to stay afloat

Grocery store checkout line
Grocers are upgrading their stores to accommodate new technology for faster store visits, along with placing emphasis on expanding fresh food sections. Photo: Tech. Sgt. Joshua Arends

Grocery stores across Washington are stepping up their efforts to modernize and reformat their stores to better highlight what online shopping can never quite satisfy: fresh meats and bread. Also on the horizon are new ways to speed up customer visits and streamline online order pickups.

According to a study by the Food Marketing Institute, online food and beverage spending is on the rise, making up an estimated 20 percent share of online shopping sales. By 2025, 70 percent of U.S. consumers are expected to buy groceries online, totaling $100 billion in sales each year. Amazon is one company which wasted no time capitalizing on this trend, touting an estimated 18 percent of online grocery sales last year according to One Click Retail.

As the online marketplace continues to grow, revamping is also being seen in the retail sector, where large retailers are downsizing to increase customer turnover rates and achieve more sales per square foot.

A Fred Meyer in Fisher’s Landing added new devices for scanning products at the end of last month to help lessen the amount of time customers are waiting in checkout lines. The revamp is being constructed in five of the seven Clark County locations.

“It allows folks to come in and take the helm of their own shopping experience and conveniently scan the items in,” Jeffery Temple, spokesman for Fred Meyer told the Columbian. “We’re continually looking at what our customers want and trying to optimize the experience and give them more choices in how they can shop with us.”

This is part of Fred Meyer’s “Scan, Bag, Go” program which will take effect in 26 of its stores this year. The option will be offered with traditional checkout options, which the company said in its release “helps…create a personalized experience for customers throughout their shopping trip, allowing them to view and download digital coupons, keep a running total of their order, and view the current week’s sales ad.”

Additional improvements for Fred Meyer stores include wider aisles, larger sections for produce, meat and seafood, more self-checkout aisles and bigger cashier stations.

“It streamlines the process to get our customers through faster and so our cashiers can focus on getting the goods rung up,” said Temple.

This is a similar improvement seen in the Amazon Go stores, however customers can pick up their items and be charged as they walk out the door.

Not everyone is excited about the faster checkouts – some worry that it will lead to fewer job openings for cashiers, where tasks that used to require several employees only will require one.

“It’s not necessarily going to take jobs away, it’s going to require different skills from employees,” said Jan Gee, President and CEO of the Washington Food Industry Association (WFIA).

She added that although a grocer might cut some front counter customer service positions, the business would still need people in the back to handle the new technology system.

Gee said that grocers need to embrace new technology, otherwise they will die out. With more and more reliance on online food and beverage ordering options, the grocery sector needs to be quick about implementing new handheld devices or optimized store layouts, she added.

“More and more people are finding the convenience of ordering their cans of beans and toilet tissues online.

“The evolution we are seeing in the industry is there are traditional grocery stores shrinking, but they are expanding offerings in the deli and the bakery. Those are the things people still want to go in and touch, feel, smell and pick out themselves.”

She added that grocers are redesigning the stores to focus where the stores have an advantage over online shopping options.

“Let Amazon have the green beans and the toilet tissues, it’s not the same level of profit in those as there is for your fresh offerings.”

Gee said although grocery stores will not embrace the Amazon Go style check-out option as quickly as convenience stores, grocers will be focusing on convenience in the form of online ordering and pickups at the store, especially in metropolitan settings.

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