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Innovation/Automation in Retail

Northern Light

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Saw something that slipped under my radar in the grocery flyer this week.

Decided it was worth a mention here, and could be best set up as a broad thread where other new/different ideas across retail could be discussed.

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Sobeys has a new Salad Bar Robot (more like a vending machine of sorts.......it seems to be....).....but I digress.

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I can't say this idea works for me..............but its certainly different.

Select stores:
  • Laird & Wicksteed (4726) on November 18, 2020
  • Glen Abbey (777), on November 25, 2020
  • Queensway (7383) on December 2, 2020
  • Spadina (934) on December 3, 2020
It comes from this company:

 
Hmmmm .... salad bar in the time of COVID. Necessity is the mother of all invention?
 
Hmmmm .... salad bar in the time of COVID. Necessity is the mother of all invention?

Perhaps, but I'm not sure I see it as a good long-term play; but I could be wrong.

Sobey's didn't offer salad bars before; though its Farm Boy division did.

I tend to think the consumer who wants to linger over a salad bar, deciding how interesting to make their salad.......shall I have the regular onion or the pickled?, shall I add the cooked potato for something different? Is not the customer buy vending machine salad.

But people surprise me now and again! So who knows.

It likes like a comparatively simple design; I'd have to see the numbers to see if it works as a labour-saving device. I'm dubious.

I'm all for fresh-food vending machines where practical; simply to offer food choices in environments you might not otherwise get any (low-use subway stations, isolated industrial areas etc.)

But I don't see it as a good in-market offer.
 
Sobey's automated their Voila delivery system .... perhaps they're just enamoured with automation right now :)
 
Sobey's automated their Voila delivery system .... perhaps they're just enamoured with automation right now :)
All the grocers are, particularly with pressure on labour cost. The tension then is that ecommerce (picking orders for you and/or delivery) is a big increase in labour. Even Sobeys 'automated' home delivery warehouse has hundreds of workers. Automation is just a multiplier for human labour. The actual delivery is all manual.
 
There are benefits for the consumer. When you order with Voila, you know as you are ordering if the product is available or not. When you order with click and collect systems, such as Loblaws uses, there's someone running through the store picking up your order -- they miss things, they tell you things aren't available when they really are, things become sold out before they pick your order.

The drawback with shipping from the warehouse vs the store, at least when comparing Voila to Loblaws, is the availability of loose produce such as "I want 5 oranges". You can get a bag of oranges, but that's it. Produce selection is currently limited.
 
Automation, by and large, should be about productivity. It's comparatively rare that it directly enhances customer service.

Though it may do so indirectly, depending on its application, in terms of enhancing freshness, providing more selling/display space, or lowering the cost of certain goods.

Self-checkouts are something I like; I think they make sense unless you have larger orders or code-heavy (produce/bulk) orders where it a pro will make much quicker work of it.

Automation in back-of-house, in fridges, in monitoring expiring goods is all positive.

I fully expect most stores to have robotic floor cleaning within 5 years, and that makes perfect sense to me.

The robot can do the rounds overnight with no shift-premium and be as fast and more accurate and consistent than a human.

The downside on those, for now, is that they don't have a good means for interpreting unexpected objects in their path, and just stop.

That means you still need a human around to address stray items; but they can be doing something else most of the time.

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When it comes to in-store offering though, people pay extra for the idea that food feels artisanal; that requires less automation in many respects.
 
In store definitely trumps delivery for some grocery shopping! However, the delivery stuff is great for the box of cereal, the bottle of apple juice, etc. Terrific option for a busy family with a couple of kids.

Where the consumer comes in is satisfaction -- if Click & Collect becomes more bothersome than useful (because you end up running into the store to pick up those missed items), it's not efficient for anyone, and people stop using it and switch their business to the more reliable offering.

As an old grocer, I can't tell you how awesome automated floor cleaning would be.

I'm just intrigued at the changes we are seeing, many of which have been accelerated because of COVID. Some will work well, some won't, and seeing what happens will be interesting.
 
I was at a grocery store in Waterloo a couple years ago, they were testing out this stock scanning robot. The robot moved out of my way when i got close to it. They had a tech guy walking around keeping an eye on the robot.

 
I was at a grocery store in Waterloo a couple years ago, they were testing out this stock scanning robot. The robot moved out of my way when i got close to it. They had a tech guy walking around keeping an eye on the robot.


Interesting.

I'm not sure about the value though.

Every SKU is already in the system.

Store reorders for most chains can be automatic in most departments.

There are manual inventory counts periodically to adjust for shrink (theft) as well as damaged or mislaid product.

I suppose it could help w/that.

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Labour-saving in current practice would be self-checkouts and digital price tags (though neither are universal yet)

The biggest remaining one is restocking and product churn, that will take a bit longer in most stores (measure in years).

Though I could see Costco which really only needs to drop whole skids of things getting there faster.
 
Interesting.

I'm not sure about the value though.

Every SKU is already in the system.

Store reorders for most chains can be automatic in most departments.

There are manual inventory counts periodically to adjust for shrink (theft) as well as damaged or mislaid product.

I suppose it could help w/that.

****

Labour-saving in current practice would be self-checkouts and digital price tags (though neither are universal yet)

The biggest remaining one is restocking and product churn, that will take a bit longer in most stores (measure in years).

Though I could see Costco which really only needs to drop whole skids of things getting there faster.
It's to correct the system perpetual inventory to match shelf inventory and identify discrepancies to alert a human to resolve. PI is not merely a calculation, but you try to make it as close to one as possible by using strong processes. You will always have 'shrink' in the form of shoplifting, and beyond that you also get unrecorded damages (try to minimize this) and customers taking an item and leaving it elsewhere. There's the old 'I don't want this sushi after all, I'll tuck it away behind these cheerios on the shelf'. I don't know if people don't know or don't care, but they are destroying products when they do this. I always make a point of at least putting the item back at the right temperature because I hate the idea of contributing to food waste and I generally despise the entitlement mentality of just dropping your mess wherever you like, much like leaving your rubbish on a table at a quick serve restaurant or strewn all over the floor at a movie theatre. People are awful.
 
When staff finds the sushi amongst the canned beans, they have to toss it, because there is no way of knowing how long it has been sitting there. :(
 
Thar robot might imply that the store keeps their aisles relatively free of pop-up displays and other junk, although it does seem Walmart is better at that than others.

I admittedly have used self-checkout the odd time with a single item, but if they want me to use it more often, the'd better offer me a discount.

There is always a variance with the actual stock count and what stores post online. If it's one or two, I usually won't head in unless it is really close - or I'm really desperate. Calling to get someone to actually check is usually a disappointing venture (and certainly don't expect them to 'check in the back' even if you are there in person).
 
I almost exclusively use self-checkouts, and prefer stores that have them. There is an aspect of customer service offered by them. I greatly enjoy not being delayed by other idiot customers in line, and I appreciate not having a very rushed checkout experience so I have time to review pricing for any surprises.
 

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