November 20, 2022

Why Grocers Need to Focus on Employees for Future Success

retail worker taking inventory of produce section in grocery store

The Labor Situation in the Grocery Industry 

The labor market is changing. Even before COVID-19, retailers were facing issues with staffing. Retail employees were growing tired of the long hours, inconsistent schedules, treatment from employers and customers, and lack of skill and job growth opportunities. 

The pandemic only exacerbated the issues resulting in employees leaving in droves. 

This has left retailers short-staffed and, in a position where they can no longer avoid the requests and needs of employees if they want their stores to succeed. 

In addition to labor shortages and high attrition, attracting talent has been difficult due to competition from other sectors that have been able to offer high sign-on bonuses and higher hourly wages. 

As Grocery Dive points out, “Throwing money at the problem, however, offers limited ability to stand out in a labor market where fast-food restaurants, department stores, and other sectors are all offering similar enticements.” 

Consumer Shopping Expectations Have Shifted

In addition to staffing issues, retailers have also come face to face with consumers whose shopping habits have changed, resulting in new expectations about the shopping journey—no matter the path. 

Digital tools such as websites, apps, delivery services, and more have made shopping easier and more convenient for the consumer—but for grocers, this has complicated how they meet and deliver customers' needs and wants. 

Why Grocers Need to Focus on Employees 

The combination of these issues has created a predicament for grocers, and one they can no longer avoid addressing. 

“The pandemic has dramatically accelerated these trends, leaving grocery retailers with little choice but to transform their people models. The upside? The sector can not only address these challenges but also drive sustainable competitive advantage with talent.” --McKinsey 

What this means for grocers is they need experienced and friendly employees on site not only to help deliver exceptional in-store experiences but also to fulfill and deliver online and app orders. 

Hybrid shopping habits have created additional roles for employees to take on, and grocers must keep up with these to appease customers. 

According to Winsight Grocery Business “To keep customers, grocers must focus on building loyalty. One very tangible way to do that is by delivering a superior customer experience regardless of whether a customer shops online or in-store.” 

What this all boils down to is investing in employees to help meet the changes in shopping habits, the requests for more unique and better experiences, and to deliver convenience. Without helpful, friendly, and experienced employees, grocers will struggle to keep up with shoppers. 

Investing in employees requires finding ways to elevate the work, provide more training and career growth opportunities, and improve the treatment of employees, including more flexibility with scheduling and hours worked. 

Tips for Focusing on Employees to Future-Proof Grocery Stores 

1-Use Autonomous Solutions to Help Elevate Staff 

Increasingly grocers are evaluating how to implement and utilize autonomous solutions. 

Metcalf is one example of a grocer exploring many options to help offset labor issues and improve store performance, one thing they are looking at specifically is finding ways to reduce labor through automation. 

“‘We’re looking at that at every aspect of things that we do,’” Tim Metcalfe said, noting that the company is eying technology to reduce labor like robots to clean the floors overnight and Sally, the salad-making robot,” according to Grocery Dive.

Adding autonomous solutions can help for a variety of reasons. For example, adding a cobot (collaborative robot) like Cobi 18, an autonomous floor scrubber, frees staff from doing repetitive floor cleaning, which in turn allows staff to focus on customers and create a better store experience. 

This helps grocers tackle a variety of issues in multiple ways. For example, automation: 

  • Takes on repetitive work that most staff do not enjoy doing 
  • Frees staff to do work that requires more skill and dexterity 
  • Allows grocers to utilize existing staff to focus on customer experience 
  • Allows grocers to train staff on innovative technology 
  • Gives workers the chance to operate advanced technology 
  • Provides a consistent and efficient clean
ICE Cobotics Employee Supermarket Cobi 18

2-Create Employee Training and Education Opportunities 

This can happen in a variety of ways and can have a wide-spread impact on the organization. 

Just as grocers are experiencing changes in how the workforce operates, they are also experiencing changes in required job responsibilities due to online shopping and delivery options. 

For example, as automation becomes a larger part of daily operations, employees' job functions change. 

For a staff member, the task may change from scrubbing the floors to instead managing the technology that can scrub the floors autonomously. Staff can start the machine, keep track of the machine, and focus on other tasks at the same time. 

The same is true of self-checkout stations. While this technology is designed to guide a customer through the check-out process, there are those occasions where a staff member is necessary to step in and assist. The job then becomes more focused on customer engagement, deescalating tense situations, and adding a human element to the customer journey. 

The key here is to identify where these situations arise, how the job of the employee will change and implement training that allows staff to take on different responsibilities. 

Not only does this elevate the role of grocery store staff, but it provides them with more engaging work and allows for opportunities to learn new technology and skills. 

This in turn will help grocers provide better experiences for customers. 

3-Get to Know Your Staff and Include Them in Decision Making Conversations 

Getting to know your staff and including them in conversations regarding store processes and procedures that impact their daily work can be beneficial for a few reasons. 

Not only does this help develop a better relationship with your team, but it also makes them feel included and valued. 

Poor treatment from managers and customers is one of the top reasons retail staff workers burn out and leave. 

Instead of managing your team as a “boss” try managing your team as a leader; meaning, practice getting to know them individually, understand their unique situations, and make them feel heard. 

According to Brett Patrontasch, CEO, and co-founder of Shyft, the mobile-first workforce management solution, “By conversing with your employees as individuals, they’ll become naturally inclined to interact with customers in the same manner, from the checkout line to the meat department, customer service desk and more.” 

Patrontasch goes on to highlight these tips: 

  • Think of yourself as a coach rather than a manager. 
  • Ask your employees what their motivations are (inside and outside of work and how they relate). 
  • Listen to your employees’ perspectives, and ask them their opinion on how to improve in-house management or customer engagement. 
  • Provide them with individual opportunities to achieve certain outcomes that you’ve chatted about one-on-one. 
  • Create a group chat through a professional workforce management app so you can chat with your staff casually, allowing them to open up and feel more comfortable at work. (Patrontasch). 

The point here is that the better you treat your staff, the better they will treat customers because the value is placed on people and is modeled by leaders. 

For today’s consumers, who highly regard welcoming store experiences and working with polite and knowledgeable staff, teaching your staff to respond to shoppers positively is a win-win. You’ll be meeting staff and customer needs.

ICE Cobotics Grocery Employees

4-Implement Flexible Scheduling and Improve Time Off Benefits 

Adopting more flexible scheduling and time off benefits is an important way to let your staff know you are listening to their requests. 

The retail industry has long been faced with the challenges of unpredictable store traffic leading to a variety of scheduling complications, long hours, and shifts that do not provide ample break time in between. 

Complaints from grocery store workers suggest these issues are the reasons why they leave their jobs. In fact, “85 percent said it’s important to have schedule control” in a survey reported by Retail Wire

According to the same survey results, where managers of hourly employees were surveyed, “Forty-two percent said managing call-outs and no-shows takes the most time and effort...and Thirty-nine percent believe their employer could improve their experience by providing tools that make it easier to communicate with their team.” 

Adding tools that improve employee communication, shift swapping or pick-up, and more is one way to help improve schedule flexibility. 

“Managers overwhelmingly agree (84 percent) that efficiency and productivity would improve if they were able to communicate with employees through the same app that they use to view their schedules.” -Retail Wire 


When grocers take the time to focus on employee wellbeing, provide new opportunities to work with technology, improve training and reskilling opportunities, listen to feedback and requests, and lead with compassion, they can develop a team of employees who understand the business and put business needs first. The result is a great store for customers to work with. 

ICE Cobotics is a technology and cleaning equipment company specializing in automation. If you would like more information on Cobi 18, please reach out to our automation experts.

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