July 2020 | Commentary | E_Commerce

Online Grocery Shifts into Hyperspeed

Tags: Retail, E-commerce, Food Logistics

The retail grocery industry was upended by the COVID-19 outbreak. As consumers rushed to stock up on food and other items during quarantine, retailers and their partners collaborated in new ways to respond to skyrocketing demand.

Ryan Richard, Vice President of Community Engagement, Retail Grocery, GS1 US, 609-620-0200

Retailers face an extreme sense of urgency to accelerate, and continually perfect, digital offerings in the age of pantry loading. They must innovate to satisfy consumer needs and relieve pressure on the stores.

Here are three ways retailers can ensure e-commerce capabilities run efficiently by focusing on trading partner collaboration.

1. Onboard new suppliers. The unique circumstances of the pandemic forced a shift in the way shoppers previously bought online. Instead of sticking to shelf-stable consumer packaged goods, consumers increasingly buy more perishable food.

Many retailers have started partnering with suppliers that have an overabundance of perishables originally intended for food service use, such as for schools, restaurants, and hotels. Those suppliers that are already leveraging global data standards in their supply chain systems are more likely to have an easier transition to the retail channel.

Products must be uniquely identified using universal product codes and set up for the point-of-sale checkout process. For example, a purveyor of tomatoes usually used in restaurant salads must shift to product-level barcoding in addition to case-level barcoding.

2. Reduce substitutions. Retailers are challenged not only by the quick ramp-up of online capabilities, but they must continually improve those capabilities to keep consumers satisfied. One of their biggest complaints: item substitutions.

A focus on data quality and inventory visibility through the use of standards-based systems can help supply chain partners keep each other informed of product descriptions and quantities in real time. Standards help connect physical products to digital information and support supply chain visibility in the retail grocery supply chain.

Standards such as the advance ship notice, for example, help partners communicate shipment details ahead of time, so the retailer knows what is arriving and when. More importantly, it helps retailers, as well as any third-party delivery partners, understand what they should mark as an available item on their websites to give consumers a realistic view of product in stock.

3. Turn to technology. The pandemic will continue to change the way we shop for the foreseeable future. As a result, retailers are exploring alternative ways to support continued demand using technology.

Facing the difficult reality that human workforces are susceptible to illness, retailers are exploring the use of robotics to gain warehouse efficiencies in online fulfillment. Even as demand increases, robots help supplement a growing number of important tasks, such as evaluating store-shelf capacity and quickly picking items for an online order.

No matter the motivation, as more automation is introduced, keep in mind that these emerging technologies rely on quality, structured data. The use of standards to ensure a consistent language of data as well as clear, repeatable data governance processes should be prioritized as robotics are introduced.

Ultimately, 2020's "new normal" has thrown online grocery initiatives into hyperspeed. Despite the urgency, adhering to data standards and best practices can bolster a retailer's e-commerce and in-store operations now, and secure loyalty in the future.






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