What Social Distancing Means for Grocery Retailing

| Comercio Minorista

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By Domenico Antonucci, Retail Sales Manager, UK & Ireland

We’re all seeing Covid-19 influencing every area of our lives today and there is no clear end in sight yet. So, while we don’t have a coronavirus vaccine and the population is still at risk, social distancing will likely be here in some shape or form for at least 12 months. What will that mean for grocery, convenience and general merchandise retailers? Well, a very simple answer is…long lines and more waiting!

Social distancing means limiting the number of people inside your store. That means lines outside your store to ensure shopper and staff safety for the foreseeable future. That in itself doesn’t seem too bad, people will just have to wait to get into your store, right?  Well not really, unfortunately many customers don’t want to and won’t wait. Whether they go to an alternative store or look to purchase online, it might mean loss of business to a competitor. At the same time, less people in your stores means you simply can’t sell as much in a day as you could in the “pre-coronavirus” days. 

The New Normal – Waiting to Enter Stores

When most countries went into “lockdown”, supermarkets, general retailers and convenience store operators began by limiting the numbers of shoppers in store. Then most added out two meter markers on the floor to highlight appropriate social distancing. Now increasing numbers of stores are marking out a direction of flow, as they look to keep shoppers and their staff as safe as possible.

During the last few months I think we’ve all experienced the “new shopping normal” at our local supermarket. Long waits outside and when you get in, it feels almost empty as you shop in a strange silence – wondering if you’re too close to the person in front or if you can overtake when you don’t need anything in that aisle…

The waits don’t work – shoppers have always been a fickle bunch and while most people will accept having to join long lines at the end of their shopping, it’s often a different story when it comes to waiting to get into a store. Add in nervousness about exposure to infection during prolonged waits and the net result is that, when it comes to food shopping, more people will choose where they shop based on the line length. Many also carry out more targeted “mission shopping” in smaller convenience stores, where lines tend to move faster as people shop for just a few items. Remember, it will get worse as we come out of lockdown, when our shopping habits may return to the going during typical times such as after work and at the weekend – making it more important to solve this problem.

A New Challenge for Retailers: Capacity & Space

The queues/lines will impact your store in two ways:

  1. Lost customers – when faced with a long wait to get into your store some customers will inevitably go and shop elsewhere – in store or online. 
  2. Fewer people in the store means lower sales per square foot.

So retailers need to find ways to reduce the need to wait, so that you don’t lose those sales and hang on to your customers. Here are five options to consider.

1. Scale up home deliveries. 

The big grocers have already done an amazing job of scaling up their capacity to make more home deliveries. For example in the UK, Tesco have gone from 660k weekly slots to 805k, while Iceland have upped their capacity by 250%. Retailers are also looking into safer, contactless ways to capture proof of delivery from recipients on their doorstep.

2. Scale up or introduce Click & Collect/Curbside Pick-Up. 

In the US, there is also a big push towards “curbside” collections where the shopper doesn’t even leave their car. We already have this service at some of our big supermarkets here in the UK, where you can pull up at click & collect bays in car parks. Prior to coronavirus it was more of a novelty – today it’s a great way to do your shopping and avoid the long lines outside the store.  You may still need to join a line, but while sitting comfortably and safely in your car.

Whether your customers’ choose home delivery or grocery pickup though, you will also need to scale-up your capacity to pick orders in store to deal with this increase in demand from online grocery ordering. This means thousands of new and temporary staff who need to be trained and equipped to handle stock replenishment and order fulfilment. One safe and swift solution you can roll out now is deploying enterprise-grade data capture software on company-owned or even on employees’ own smart devices (BYOD), empowering new employees to fulfill orders at speed

3. Consider if some stores can be converted to “Dark Stores”?  

Some stores will not regain enough footfall to be viable over the next 12 months – perhaps they are in locations where footfall is driven by other businesses, e.g. in city centres.  Or perhaps you have two stores serving the same community – so one could be used as a local picking location to meet the growing demand for home shopping or for curbside pick-up services.

4. Speed up customer service during social distancing

Equipping your staff with the tools and insight they need to do their job and  support customers who do still request help  in the aisle is even more critical this year. You need to keep interactions safely distant, brief and you can’t afford to have staff needing to wander off to find an answer to a simple customer question.

So when customers do need to ask if an essential or in-demand item (like flour or toilet paper) is in stock, you must give them a better service and do it faster than ever before. It will ultimately speed up shopping trips, leading to less time in store per customer. 

5. Introduce mobile self-scanning for safer, faster contactless shopping. 

This could be one of your big wins for this year. With the emphasis on the ‘self’, self-scanning will help you bolster lost sales caused by social distancing. Ultimately, you will have lines outside your store and fewer people inside actually shopping for potentially 12 months or until it is deemed safe to relax these measures.  

Anything you can do that helps speed up the time it takes your customers to shop and exit the store will be critical this year. Deploying a self-scanning application ultimately lets you serve more customers overall, by helping shoppers get in and out quickly and also has the benefit of limiting their interactions with checkout staff for extra safety.  

So how could this add up?

  • Social distancing creates queues, limits the number of shoppers in-store at any one time and reduces the total number of customers served per day, ultimately leading to revenue loss.
  • In this example, we’ll look at a small supermarket store (say 8,000 sq.) and assume for the immediate future, people will be lining up outside to get into your store for a 6 hour time period each day.
  • The average shopping time in store is 20 minutes, while waiting and paying at a standard check-out lane takes around 6 minutes per customer of this time.
  • Deploying a mobile self-scanning application helps you move customers through the store more quickly. In this example, it creates time savings of 4 minutes compared to the standard check-out process.
  • So, faster throughput of shoppers helps you to serve more customers in total – If 20% of your shoppers use your self-scanning app, you could easily recover enough time from your checkout process to allow an extra 2.6 customers into your stores each day.
  • With an average basket size of £25 per shopper, when calculated across a chain with 100 stores this would result in £32,500 more revenue per week – and almost £1.7 million over 12 months.

Unless you can implement mobile self-scanning quickly, you are going to lose this revenue, not just this year, but perhaps for good as your customers are forced to shop elsewhere.

Practice Safe Social Distancing and Contactless Shopping with Scandit

This year is going to be tough, even for retailers who we thought would not be as badly affected by the coronavirus. But the world is changing and it’s those retailers who can adapt quickly that will get through the next twelve months. Sadly we will lose a lot more stores this year. And we will see consumer habits change in ways we are yet to imagine, as we all shop differently driven by the impact of the coronavirus and the increased focus on health and safety. 

Scandit helps retailers worldwide to deploy scalable solutions into their stores with mobile computer vision – from rapidly scaling up e-commerce fulfillment to deploying customer self-scanning solutions.  

To learn more, get in touch and one of our retail experts will be happy to talk to you.