It is clear that technology is changing the way customers use stores and that this in turn is driving retailers to adapt their physical outlets to better service these new requirements of shoppers. The latest example of this came from Tesco that announced the implementation of some major changes at many of its stores.
The headline change as far as the media was concerned was that Tesco would be removing fresh food counters from around 90 stores while the remaining 700 will continue to trade with either a full or flexible counter offer (read that as a bit of a winding down). The company argues that demand for the counters has declined because most customers now prefer to opt for a quicker shopping trip and instead choose pre-packaged goods.
Tesco says that up to half of the 9,000 employees affected by these changes will be redeployed in other roles – many of them in other customer-facing jobs. What they will probably not be used for is the more mundane activities of stock checking and merchandising. This is the element of the Tesco announcement that did not make the headlines but it is arguably more important.
It revolves around the company making changes to how it is managing its stock. One aspect of this is the decision to not keep moving products around the stores – which has been a perennial bugbear for shoppers. This not only removes the frustration of customers but also requires employees to spend less time on merchandising. It must also help with the in-store picking of goods for online orders. Other store routines are also being simplified in order to reduce employee efforts following various successful trials.
There is no doubt that behind the scenes it is technology that is making this simplification possible. This includes better forecasting, more efficient replenishment, and improved visibility of inventory across channels, which enables Tesco to much more easily track its stock regardless of where it is in the supply chain.
Among the other trials the company has been undertaking involve robotics. The use of robots that use visual computing to scan the shelves for stock checking and compliance purposes have been tested by Tesco – and many other retailers – and will undoubtedly be widely deployed in the future.
With the sensitivity around job losses in retail right now some big splashy headlines around robots taking people’s jobs would be most unwelcome for Tesco and the wider retail industry but rest assured the changes being made at the supermarket are much more profound than the closure of a few fish and meat counters.
Glynn Davis, editor of Retail Insider
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