The retail industry is changing rapidly and supermarkets are racing to find the quickest and most convenient ways to get groceries to their customers.
Coles raised the stakes this week with the launch of Click&Collect Rapid – a service that allows online shoppers to buy and pick up their items in just 90 minutes at one of more than 400 stores across the nation.
In a trial run last year, the service proved a hit with “customers who tend to have smaller baskets and shop more frequently as they can place their order during the day and collect it on the way home”, Coles Online’s James Geddes said.
“Whether it’s meat and veggies for a last-minute dinner, pet food for your dog, or making sure you have fresh bread for school lunches for the following day, Click&Collect Rapid takes the stress out of running to the supermarket for forgotten items,” Mr Geddes said.
Coles’ move highlights just how crucial a quick turnaround is in today’s retail environment, Queensland University of Technology retail expert Gary Mortimer said.
Speed has become the new currency of businesses today and this is particularly prevalent for food and groceries,” Professor Mortimer said.
“While many consumers are very happy to order a T-shirt or a piece of sporting equipment online and wait a couple of days or a week for it to be delivered, when it comes to food and groceries it’s about urgency.”
The pandemic has fuelled an online shopping boom, and challenged retails to “get that product picked and packed and delivered quickly”, Professor Mortimer said.
“This innovation from Coles indicates even more how much pressure supermarket retailers are under to continually speed up that process,” he said.
“So being able to order at 4 o’clock in the afternoon on your smartphone and then pick it up as you get off the train at 5.30pm is a very convenient and value-added experience.”
Woolworths is also looking to embrace new technology, with chief executive Brad Banducci last week announcing that the firm would plough $50 million into a ‘future of work fund’ to “help us equip our team with new skills and capabilities” and “supplement our existing investment in training and development”.
“The key focus will be in digital, advanced analytics, machine learning and robotics, with further investment slated for advanced customer service skills and agile ways of working,” Mr Banducci said.
Woolworths employs 140,000 workers and Mr Banducci stressed that the program was designed to ensure “no team member is left behind by this changing wave we are riding”.
It is “widely recognised that retail is going through a period of evolution, and that we’re seeing more self-service technologies play out”, Professor Mortimer said.
“We’re seeing a stronger move towards online shopping that’s creating new roles. And of course, in the future, there may be social robots that we will interact with, that will scan stock provide directions around a big store.
“So as we move through this period of evolution in of what the retail might look like in the future, I think it’s vitally important that we bring incumbent staff and team members along on that journey. ”
Rise of the robots
From warehouses to the shop floor, both Coles and Woolworths have invested in a range of robotic technology in recent years.
The deal will see Ocado install and maintain equipment in new automated customer fulfilment centres located outside Sydney and Melbourne, and reboot Coles’ online shopping platform by the end of the 2023 financial year.
Woolworths has also backed a bigger role for robotics.
In December, Woolworths opened on its first Australian ‘eStore’.
The 2400-square-metre facility adjoins an existing supermarket in the Melbourne suburb of Carrum Downs and features “state-of-the-art automated picking technology” supplied by Takeoff Technologies.
Woolworths has also attracted attention for its smiley-faced instore robots that have been roaming aisles for more than a year doing everything from cleaning up spills to checking stock levels on shelves.
The firm has also trialled a trolley-sized self-service checkout.