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How Supermarkets can Surpass Customer Expectations with Effective People Operations Strategies

by Jineshwar Kochar, WFM Innovation Analyst on Mar 11

What Customers Expect from grocers

Grocery stores and supermarkets occupy a dominant position in the Global retail market. No matter the age, income, location, or any other category, every person visits grocery stores to meet their daily needs. To illustrate this point, a 2019 study (by Saville) found 78% of British consumers shopped for groceries at least once a week. Similarly, another study found that US households make an average of 1.6 visits to the grocery store per week. Clearly, the main challenge for these grocers goes way beyond generating more customer demand. It is making sure their customers choose their store week after week and time after time. Catering to customer expectations is essential to building recurring business; 54% of shoppers report that they are more likely to shop at a supermarket that offers a consistent experience, and this is no different for other types of grocers. Below we have listed some of the most important experiences customers take account of when shopping in-store.



To make sure grocers can deliver on all of these demands, the right operational strategy includes streamlining the shopper’s experience by considering all these factors. Ensuring frictionless shopping with the highest levels of customer experience is not easy. The biggest challenge that arises out of this is how to execute store and labour operations efficiently so they can work together? Two key elements: People & Technology are fundamental to make sure that stores meet and exceed expectations to get customers coming back for more and stacking up their shopping carts. With effective labour operations solutions, stores can consistently deliver the top customer demands— convenience, value, and experience.


Addressing Store Challenges Has Become Increasingly Important

Challenges at the workplace are not the same and they can vary from one grocers to another. It might be that specific corporate resources and initiatives need to be fulfilled, specific deliverables need to be executed across all stores, or specific customisations within a grocer’s vertical and brand need to be accounted for. It also could also be a combination of few or all these factors.


Analysing this further, the burden falls on store managers who are responsible for making sure they execute all the tasks successfully. They know the store in-and-out and handle most of the work in the store, even as work in stores increases and becomes more complex. 


Online orders have also been increasing, especially among millennials and GenZers. Supermarkets and food delivery service providers are experimenting with innovative models such as in-store eateries and cloud kitchens for customers. Add to the table dark stores, distribution centres and online fulfilment centres. These innovative  models create additional workload challenges for training, staffing, and operations execution. 


Store managers have to examine information from many different sources and prioritise them according to their importance. Their tasks can range from tracking product returns, omnichannel service orders (click and collect, executing online deliveries, attending to customers in-store, keeping the store in good condition, managing the employees, etc).

But how can they know exactly what needs to be done at all times? How do they know what should be prioritized, if emergencies require their attention? It boils down to: How can they align what needs to be done in the store with who is going to do it?


Addressing these challenges requires managers to ensure there are enough associates scheduled to execute tasks efficiently and provide excellent customer service. There are many factors that determine how many store associates are needed to complete all work in the store, as well as which store associate is best suited to the task. Much of this comes down to understanding your employees, precisely assessing store traffic, and obtaining an accurate picture of the workload in stores. 


Doing It The “Right” Way

Having The Right Employee Mix 

Meeting changing demand throughout the year through manual calculations can be highly inefficient. Managers need to have accurate insights into the future labour pool to build the ideal workforce, one that is optimised to reduce excess labour expenses, reduce lost sales opportunities with fluctuating staffing levels, and to improve productivity. By checking for factors like optimal ratios, costs of recruitment efforts, and penalties for over or understaffing relative to the demand, managers can get a realistic and timely input into the whole labour budgeting process. Anticipating the gap between demand and your labour supply, allows you to make timely recruitment and staffing efforts. It enables you to always have enough people available to meet more customer demands ensuring higher levels of customer satisfaction.

Gauging The Right Store Traffic

There are many volatile factors which are responsible for determining the volume of customers in the store such as season, time, location and many more. By accurately forecasting store traffic, grocers can know how many store associates need to be scheduled to cater to all of the customers present during a certain period and handle their requests. Knowing what future store traffic and sales looks like gives store managers a base to schedule on. As stated earlier, excellent in-store experiences are determined by stock availability, cleanliness and staff availability. Accurate demand forecasts gives insights how many employees are needed to cover all tasks and to schedule for full shelfs, clean stores and available staff for all questions and help your customers might need. 


Creating The Right Happy Schedules

Every working person has a minimum charter of rights in their workplace, and a voice at work that needs to be heard in order to keep them happy. Be it shift breaks or contractual hours, scheduling has to be done in adherence to the UK labour laws. Smart scheduling ensures that store associates are engaged where they are needed most and when they are most available. Happy schedules lead to happier employees who are more motivated to deliver higher levels of customer experience. 


Assigning & Scheduling The Right Tasks

If tasks are not assigned to the workers with the right skills while minimising idle time between them, then it becomes impossible to maximise utilization and productivity. By making sure all important tasks are performed before they become urgent and automatically assigning the right people that do it best, grocers can create more accurate and efficient labour schedules. Re-optimising schedules that consider long-running tasks and unexpected demand fluctuations lead to higher maintenance of customer service levels.


Investing in A Data-First Retail Strategy

To meet the ever-rising consumer expectations, grocers and brands need to increase investment in improving processes and back-end operations.  Microsoft’s latest report also suggests starting with “a data-rich infrastructure that underpins their entire business, sophisticated analytics to extract meaningful insights and a cloud-based system for distributing them across the organization from supply chain partners to frontline staff”.

This does not necessarily have to be done by deconstructing operations all at once. Grocers can also start by revamping one area and building it up from there.  This way they can restructure their model, improve intelligent processes, and better position themselves to deliver an exceptional customer experience. 


Putting Data Into Perspective Using AI-services for Workforce Management

Acknowledging that having a complete and accurate view of workforce movements and metrics can maximise the customer experience, improve productivity and reduce costs, grocers can start exploring the improvements presented with the help of automated systems by replacing their manual processes. 


A workforce management solution that combines time and attendance functionality with a scheduling application further supports the optimisation of a workforce for all types of contracts: full-time , part-time, fixed-term, as well as agency staff. It enables grocers to ensure compliance with national and local regulations, as well as with internal policies and union requirements.

Many existing workforce management platforms can provide payroll processing, HR and benefits administration with open enrollment, time and attendance calculations, etc. However, in today’s rapidly changing business environment, putting all of that data into perspective to make well-informed decisions for higher performance is what makes all the difference.


An AI-driven workforce management solution takes the rough estimates and guessing out of labour scheduling. Workforce optimisation algorithms help managers to automatically generate schedules after considering a variety of factors that influence different stages of the scheduling process.

This operational planning strategy helps managers with not only monthly planning but also the daily planning of the workforce. Automating the scheduling process gives managers more time to spend on training and coaching associates thereby making better use of their time. This allows them to make schedules in advance and that too with minimal or no errors. Managers can staff to meet customer needs, stay within defined budgets, and have well-trained, well-informed and more engaged associates driving sales. Competent and engaged store associates can impart their energy to knowledgeable, engaged, enthusiastic customers driving higher sales. The overall results? Higher customer retention, reduced employee turnover, higher employee happiness, increased productivity and robust growth in topline and bottomline of the business. 


About Widget Brain

Widget Brain’s AI-driven scheduling automation helps grocers improve employee happiness, increase business performance and maximise compliance across all stores present all around the world. We help grocers make rosters that fully comply with labour laws, avoid lost sales and respect employee preferences. Our AI services allow grocers to maximise the potential of store employees, giving them more opportunities to make their customers happier, while also improving margins and making scheduling feel like a breeze. Since 2015, Widget Brain has been helping some of the world’s best grocers and restaurants improve store-level execution and drive quantifiable business value and significant ROI.

Widget Brain is headquartered in Rotterdam, Netherlands and has offices in Burlington (USA) and Canberra (Australia), with additional partner networks across the globe.