The global coronavirus pandemic has put the retail industry under much greater scrutiny than before. Suddenly, processes and standard operating procedures that have been in place for a long time have been judged as inadequate and capable of putting people at risk for exposure to the virus. Retailers have now adopted alternative practices for their operations, especially the high-contact kind that take place in groceries. Most of these alternatives are powered by technology and the Internet, and are becoming more mainstream in their adoption—to the benefit of both retailers and their customers.
If you manage a grocery store or a supermarket, you may want to consider modernizing your operations as well. Doing so may not only keep your customers safe, but also prepare your grocery business to be readier for a technology-driven future. Here are a few good places for you to start.
Store maintenance and custodial services are typically seen as necessary operating costs for most businesses. But recent events have required business owners to revisit these aspects and change them for the better. The need for lower personnel capacities and social distancing have challenged many retailers to keep their store spaces tidy while also complying with community quarantine protocols. At the same time, retailers have had to change their standards for the cleaning protocols themselves, for example, no longer allowing cleaning materials to be used near exposed items and fresh produce. In addition, some materials are no longer suitable for today’s environment, and grocery and supermarket businesses have had to adjust to this.
To address these concerns, some big supermarket chains have implemented the use of robotic maintenance units that use a combination of AI learning and collision detection sensors to navigate through stores. The most simple examples of such machines are the robot vacuum cleaners that are already being deployed in some establishments in Metro Manila. In other countries, there are now larger machines that are being employed by retail establishments to clean spills, scrub floors, and do other tasks that were traditionally performed by human cleaners. These robots can run autonomously, detect hurdles in their path, and map out predetermined routes.
Queue management and reduction are always at the top of supermarket managers’ to-do lists, and with good reason. Long lines at the counter are frequent causes of cart abandonment (and consequent loss of sales for the store). Moreover, these same queues can also exacerbate the spread of the virus. Shoppers naturally gravitate to the checkout counter, and as more and more of them gather there to pay for their items, their possibilities for becoming exposed increase significantly.
To manage this, some supermarket chains in the west have already implemented self-service payment systems using shopping apps and their shoppers’ smartphones. As they browse the aisles, shoppers scan items they are interested in before dropping them into their carts. The scanning technology charges shoppers automatically and notifies them of the exact amount they have to pay via a running total displayed on their phones. Then, when they finish, they can either have their items bagged in store or, if they happen to have their own shopping bags, they can simply pack up their items and leave without ever having to interact with store personnel.
Initiatives like this are very complex and may pose many challenges to implement, so a quicker, easier solution to queue management for Philippine stores is to implement a payment system that keeps queues moving quickly. One of these solutions is adopting PayMaya QR, which allows grocery store customers who are also PayMaya app users to simply scan a QR code, facilitating payments and shortening the lengths of time they stand in line. The QR code can either be a static one printed and displayed near the checkout counter, or a dynamic one generated by the PayMaya ONE device. It’s fast and easy to use, and most importantly, it’s effectively contactless.
In-person shopping inside a physical store became more difficult to do in the midst of the global pandemic. As a consequence, well-managed groceries sought digital alternatives. For some, this meant turning to third-party shopping services powered by mobile apps. While this option is fairly easy (and more importantly, cheap) to implement, it has also made customer service more difficult to manage. Say, for example an error occurs in one of the customer orders. In this situation, who does the customer contact for a solution: the shopping service or the store? These services also tack on a service fee and a delivery fee to the final receipt. This eats further into the budgets of grocery businesses, which are likely already very tight.
Store managers with an eye on the future know that a solid investment into their store’s ecommerce functionality will pay for itself over time. Building a store website within a commonly used ecommerce platform like WooCommerce, Shopify, Magento or Cafe24 will allow many more shoppers to access a store, no matter what stage of community quarantine is in place. This could boost a store’s sales profile tremendously, especially if competing brands are slow to offer the same service.
One way to simplify ecommerce implementation is by selecting software products that are plug-and play, just like PayMaya’s Checkout Plug-ins. They work with the most widely used ecommerce platforms and allow users to pay using a variety of payment methods.
For businesses that want to accommodate customers who would rather pay using their cards upon delivery of their items, the PayMaya ONE Lite is also available. It is an easy-to-use, flexible POS device that accepts most card-based forms of payment. And much like the original PayMaya ONE device, the PayMaya ONE Lite also supports QR code payments. With every new transaction, the PayMaya ONE Lite generates a unique dynamic QR code, which the customer will then have to scan using their PayMaya app to complete the payment.
Thermal scanning technology, which relies on the use of infrared cameras, has become standard in many facilities like airports and hospitals. These establishments use thermal cameras to detect the temperature of their subjects via infrared light. The camera picks up infrared radiation that’s invisible to the human eye using a miniscule measuring device called a microbolometer. The microbolometer records the subject’s temperature and assigns each pixel a corresponding color. The image translated by the camera will let the users know if a human subject has an unusually high body temperature, helping them visualize any irregularities right away.
Grocery businesses can take inspiration from hospitals and airports and adopt this technology in their own establishments. If you invest in thermal cameras for your store, you will be able to accurately detect whether one of your staff or customers has a medical condition. This can also be the basis of a compassionate response to your customers, such as discreetly informing them of the reading and offering a safe, contactless alternative to shopping in your store. In the era of the coronavirus, where shoppers are ill at ease, taking action like this will inspire greater confidence and goodwill in your business. Your customers will be better assured that your company takes their health seriously and is willing to provide solutions to meet their needs.
Necessity is truly the mother of invention, and these days, innovation and the uncertainty of the present have forced industries to either adapt or fade away into obscurity. Don’t allow your supermarket or grocery to become another casualty of the pandemic. Instead, consider one of these solutions listed above to future-proof your business for the coming years.