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This content was paid for by Microsoft and produced in partnership with the Financial Times Commercial department.

How grocery retailers are boosting their order pickers’ efficiency to stay profitable

Covid has accelerated e-commerce, but the real challenge is profitability and efficiency. Many grocery shops experienced loyalty shocks, as shoppers pared down the number of store visits and expected same day deliveries instead.

And this is here to stay: According to research by UBS in the UK 71 per cent of respondents said they will shop online “as often or more after the Covid-19 situation improves”. It has never been more necessary for grocery retailers to maximise their efficiency helping to sustain profitability and serve what has gone from a luxury for a few to a lifeline for millions.

Step forward, StrongPoint, whose technology allows stores to boost in-store productivity and transform how online orders are handled. From order picking to mobile and fixed outdoor temperature-controlled grocery lockers and curbside pick-up to home delivery: Strongpoint covers the entire end-to-end grocery retailer needs from picking to packing to delivering.

Headquartered in Norway, with offices in six countries and operations and installations across Europe and North America, StrongPoint has been working hand in glove with supermarkets and grocery stores and their store staff for more than 20 years, with its first order-picking solution going back to even 1999. With the goal to provide grocery retailers with a hyper-efficient technology solution to maximise efficiency levels.

If you can boost the productivity of in-store pickers, then the entire way of thinking about how to process online orders changes.

StrongPoint’s solution leverages proprietary software, a purpose-built trolley and wearable hardware devices from Zebra Technologies.

"Automated solutions using robots are a fantastic complement to in-store picking but the vast majority of online orders are going to be picked with people for decades to come.“ Tverabaak adds. "With smart retail technology empowering their employees, grocery retailers can process many more orders with the same number of staff and maintain flexibility to scale up and down over the week as most of our customers see a regular spike on one or two days of the week when they get the majority of their orders from weekly shoppers.”

Cloud-based and scalable, StrongPoint’s technology has enabled pickers working in grocery stores and dedicated fulfilment centres to work safely as well as more efficiently during the pandemic, helping to boost the capacity of orders and so increasing the number of customers able to get their groceries, often providing a vital lifeline.

The best thing about the solution is that you can customise to your store layout and adjust and optimise picking zones and routes accordingly.

“This has made our picking incredibly smooth and efficient. We started with picking each order from start to finish, then setting up three picking zones – and now we have six picking zones to maximise efficiency."

Grocery store workers using smart technology solutions are able to process far more orders than ever before.

With smarter in-store picking, we don’t need store workers to rush around, but we augment them by providing better and easier ways of how they locate, pick and pack the items.

Using Microsoft’s Azure cloud and Azure Cosmos DB, a database service with high availability and single-digit millisecond response times, StrongPoint is able to provide stores with the tools and reports that allow them to double, triple – or even more – their online order capacity– based on real-time findings and changing customer needs. Many of StrongPoint’s customers’ have in-store picking averages of ~240 items an hour across all product categories compared to industry averages of around 60-65 using traditional methods.

Microsoft’s retail and consumer goods lead for Europe, Nina Lund, is excited about the competitive edge that StrongPoint brings to the European retail sector.

We know that exciting innovation for the store, the shopper and the good of our planet comes from collaboration outside traditional boundaries, from diversity of thought, from being intentional about the data you collect and how you use it responsibly– as well as from necessity and changing market conditions.

Store associate loading a drive-thru customers' car with their order.

For both store owners and employees, technology not only frees up valuable time and increases orders; it means happier staff who focus on higher level tasks and, in turn, build better relationships with customers in-store.

“Efficiency of in-store picking is not derived from making people work faster but from using the power of technology to make it easier and less stressful.” says Tveraabak.

Kvist, the store owner, adds, “In our store, we take a lot of pride in always finding ways to improve so that we are always a little better and faster with online orders – but we never forget the customer in the store. We always take the time to assist them when we can and that is the most important thing.”

Technology augmenting peoples’ picking power at Scandinavian levels of efficiency means a grocery sector serving more people than ever before, now and in the future.

Want to boost your retail productivity?