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Grocers leverage in-store tech during COVID-19

Supermarket chains are embracing their in-store technology to better serve shoppers during the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Keeping employees and shoppers safe during this uncertain time is top of mind for all grocers. As a result, supermarkets are cutting store hours to give employees time to replenish shelves; establishing shopping hours for senior citizens; deep cleaning store shelves, equipment and restrooms both during and after operating hours, and stepping up delivery and in-store pick-up options. Grocery chains are also relying on technology to safely service in-store shoppers amid COVID-19. 

Here are a few innovations they are using:

* Artificial intelligence (AI). Panic-shopping continues to disrupt how supermarket chains operate their physical stores, especially when it comes to managing increased levels of out-of-stocks among high-demand categories, including  paper and cleaning products, dairy and different cuts of meat. By leveraging AI, grocers can analyze customer data to identify purchase patterns — even new ones. This information can help streamline fulfillment and improve stock levels for these high-demand items, and identify potential product substitutions. 

* Self-checkout stations. In-store shoppers practicing social distancing are giving self-checkout stations a workout. Retailers are mindful to keep these areas up and running, and as germ-free as possible. In addition to offering sanitizer wipes right by the stations, many retailers are also stepping up cleaning efforts of the devices’ touch screens and integrated card payment terminals. For example, Meijer is one of many companies “staying vigilant with our cleaning and sanitization practices, especially at high-frequency touchpoints like our check lanes, self-checkouts, and service areas,” according to a company statement. 

* Facilities management robots. Retailers from Walmart to Ahold Delhaize’s Stop & Shop and Giant/Martin’s banners use automated robots for facilities management operations ranging from identifying spills to cleaning aisle floors. Robots programmed to detect hazards for example, notify store associates in real-time, so messes are cleaned immediately. These robots also free store associates to assist shoppers or complete other tasks, such as keeping equipment clean and re-stocking shelves.

* Social media. Supermarkets are used to using social media to connect with their shoppers. For the last week, Gala Fresh in Baldwin, N.Y., has been using community pages on Facebook to alert local shoppers about new vendor deliveries, estimated arrival times, as well as store hour updates and promotions. While it is not always clear “which items will be on sale due the instability in the market, any sale our vendors give to us we will honor for our customers,” Franky Jorge, manager at Gala Fresh, said on Facebook.

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