The independent grocery industry converged on Las Vegas at the end of February for The NGA Show 2023, and Auto-Star was there to connect with our valued industry partners and customers. The show gave thousands of grocers the opportunity to stay up to date on the latest grocery trends, as well as the political and regulatory landscape, and learn ways to help optimize their businesses to address continued challenges with supply chain, inflation, and labor shortages. The overarching trend at this year’s event was advanced technology and how grocers can make smart investments to address the challenges they face every day.
Independent grocers are the backbone of their communities, but the grocery industry has traditionally been slow to adopt leading-edge technology. The pandemic changed that and has conditioned independent operators to move quickly and make the changes that are required to enable them to compete against large chains. The NGA assembled panels of experts for a number of high-quality education sessions. These sessions highlighted the top technology trends that grocers should adopt in 2023.
Electronic Shelf Labels (ESL) have been around for decades but seem to have finally hit their stride and were a hot topic of conversation on the show floor and throughout the education sessions. Electronic Shelf Labels replace traditional paper tags and signs throughout grocery stores. The tags integrate a small digital display that is updated wirelessly as price changes happen within a store. These tags can last 10+ years, and with the price of labor going up and prices of technology going down, a typical independent grocer can see a return on their technology investment in 2 years. A typical independent grocery store would often have 10,000 price tags to process and hang on a Saturday night, along with another 2,000 throughout the week. These would take all night to complete if they get done at all, even all week. Now a wholesaler can drop price changes at 7 a.m., and they are updated across an entire group of stores by 7:30 a.m. This saves a massive amount of labor hours but also improves accuracy. Auto-Star was one of the first in the industry to offer Electronic Shelf Labels over 15 years ago, and today, we offer integrated Electronic Shelf Labels from leaders in the industry like SES Imagotag.
Self Checkouts have also been around for decades at this point but again have become a critical need for the independent grocer again, partially due to a challenging labor market but also increasingly due to consumer preference. Customers want to choose how and where they want to pay in a store. Auto-Star offers our quick scan Self Checkout to enable grocers to offer their customers the convenience of Self-Checkout at a fraction of the price with innovative solutions that allow even the smallest grocer to offer this technology even with limited space. To enable this Auto-Star, as a Toshiba Together Commerce partner, has certified our solutions on the Toshiba Pro-X Hybrid Kiosk. This technology enables an independent grocer to quickly change a standard checkout to a Self-Checkout depending on the needs of the day.
Using technology to better manage inventory was a hot topic as well. Grocery stores typically do not manage a full perpetual inventory in their stores, and even strong regional chains don’t make this a priority due to the large investment in man hours and items that a typically harder to track, like fresh and perishable meats and produce. Advanced Computer Generated Ordering (CGO) and Computer Assisted Ordering (CAO) were offered as potential solutions by expert panelists. Computer Assisted Ordering is when a computer program uses an algorithm to create a suggested order which is then reviewed before being automatically sent to the wholesalers for fulfillment. Computer Generated Ordering is completely automated and can generate and send an order without human interaction. Auto-Star has offered CAO for many years with our Scientific Purchasing solution.
Using algorithms to help manage inventory is not new, but there have been recent advancements that are making it even easier for independent grocers to accurately manage their inventory. Technology like Computer Vision uses artificial intelligence (AI) to help computers view and interpret the visual world and has been demonstrated to successfully manage inventory, famously by Amazon’s Go stores and their “Just Walk Out” technology. This technology enables a shopper to walk into a store, pick up their items and just walk out with technology tracking and enabling the transaction. Now a number of startups are using Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Computer Vision to enable grocers to use this new technology as well. Technologies like shelf edge cameras that monitor and track inventory by identifying items that are on the shelf and automatically adjusting as consumers purchase products or staff restock the shelf. This technology also enables a new type of shopping cart called a Smart Cart. These smart carts integrate cameras, lidar, and weighing systems along with interactive screens that enable a shopper to scan items as they are dropped into the cart while also giving them the shopping experience of ecommerce. Auto-Star will be watching these leading-edge technologies closely to make sure we are enabling our independent grocers to take advantage of the ones that provide a real return from partners that can be counted on.
Ecommerce, of course, continues to grow as grow in adoption as grocers optimize and refine their online offerings after the pandemic. Buy Online Pickup In Store (BOPIS) and Delivery services challenge grocers in ways that are not easily solved by basic ecommerce platforms built for retail. Grocers moved quickly during the pandemic to get their stores online, but now, after years of refining and optimizing their offerings, it’s clear that not all eCommerce platforms are purpose-built for grocery. Leading grocery ecommerce solutions like Local Express offer grocers the end-to-end food eCommerce platform that they need, and Auto-Star integrates with solutions like these to offer our merchants an omnichannel solution.
The National Grocers Association (NGA) represents over 20,000 independent grocers across America, representing over 1/3 of all retail grocery industry sales, so when we see their independent members embracing these next-generation technologies, we know that they’ve reached a critical mass and will likely be adopted widely. Auto-Star continues to stay on top of the latest trends and technologies available to help our Independent grocery merchants compete and win against the large chains.