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The grocery store may be the most visible place to see the impact of technological changes on American consumers, companies, and workers.
That’s insight from my colleague Sapna Maheshwari, who recently wrote about the ways that pandemic-related changes in grocery shopping are making grocery stores more like Amazon warehouses. .
We talked about the change from the relatively small to date of Americans skipping supermarkets to order online, and how stores and their employees are navigating the unknown future of shopping. grocery.
Shira: What’s New in Americans’ grocery shopping habits, and what does that mean for stores?
Sapna: The biggest change is that more people during the pandemic are starting to order groceries online for store pick-up or home delivery. Online shopping is growing fast, but it’s still not big. Industry insiders tell me that now less than 10% buy groceries.
Even that relatively small change is the biggest change in the industry in years and a challenge. For every order we receive in store or deliver, someone personally goes to buy our groceries. Grocery stores often don’t have a lot of financial space. The industry standard is about $5 profit on $100 groceries.
How are grocers trying to manage this?
The main way is to try to do whatever it takes to help store employees put together grocery orders more efficiently to keep costs down. One executive told me that every second counts.
Some stores are using handheld devices that direct workers to the fastest route through the store to 20 things on a shopper’s list. Some food packaging has been changed so that it does not take a worker to weigh a pound of apples; she can get a bag of pre-cut apples instead.
That sounds like an Amazon warehouse or another e-commerce distribution center.
Right. Grocery stores are in this difficult period where they don’t know how future generations will want to shop. So grocers are trying to double duty as in-person shopping and online ordering assembly lines similar to Amazon warehouses.
Another difference is that most people don’t see what happens in an e-commerce mall. Changes in grocery store operations and operations are happening as we ramp up our carts. It’s a stark example of how technology is changing our lives in one of the most ordinary places in America and for a large workforce.
Great point. And how do store employees feel about the changes in their jobs?
It changes. I spoke with someone who enjoys the thrills and physical activity of strolling through a grocery store.
I’ve also spoken to employees who feel frustrated about how much their work is guided by automated systems and measured by how quickly they assemble orders. A worker told me about the horror of bamboo skewers. They’re often near meat or seafood stalls, which can make sense for in-person shoppers looking to make a barbecue. But it would be less efficient if a store employee had to search among their dozens of items every hour.
Is this strain temporary for stores and workers? If most people started shopping online instead of buying in person, could grocery stores focus on making grocery pickup and delivery better for all involved?
I do not know. Supermarket chain Kroger has made headlines by investing in large automated warehouses with robots that the company says will eventually do the bulk of the work of gathering grocery orders. Other companies are experimenting with mini-warehouses attached to stores designed solely for aggregating online orders.
Most grocery stores can’t spend what Walmart or Amazon do to invest in new technology. And some technology that promises to help grocers or store employees perfect the online order picking and packing process could be hogwash. There may not be an ideal future for shoppers, supermarkets and grocery workers.
Before we go…
Science and technology research has agreed to the Senate: My colleague, Catie Edmondson, writes: The $250 billion bill to encourage breakthroughs in new technology easily passed in the Senate. (Indoors are more complicated.) Americans and American politicians generally don’t like spending taxpayer money promoting private industries, but I wrote earlier this year about how to compete with China. changed my mind a lot. There is more information on this on “The Daily”.
What’s new and possibly useful in your latest phone software: My colleague Brian X. Chen walks through some of the updated features in the operating system for iPhone and Android phones. These include automated messages on iPhone to let people know you’re too busy to text, and on Android to be more clear about when apps are accessing your phone’s camera or using your location. friend.
They are stressing about entertaining us: My colleague Taylor Lorenz writes that the long-standing problem of online celebrity burnout is now coming to TikTok’s young stars. She’s talked to people who know about building an online audience and is still surprised to find that they’re struggling with the constant need to create new material.
You must read this a bunch of tweets from a woman trying to help dad find a job at Costco. There’s walleye fish and back channel messages with the Costco manager. I won’t spoil the ending.
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