Can Wakefern crowdsource away its out-of-stocks?
Supermarket cooperative Wakefern Food Industries is testing a creative solution that blends technology with shoppers’ natural behavior to address the problem of out-of-stocks. In a session at the 2018 National Retail Federation Big Show in New York City, Christopher McCrae, manager of retail logistics at Wakefern Food Corporation, explained this hybrid human/automated strategy for keeping items on the shelves.
In pilot stores, Wakefern has mounted out-of-stock detector cameras made by Focal Systems on the sides of about 50 carts. As customers go through the aisles on their shopping trips, the cameras identify voids on the shelves, crowdsourcing the out-of-stock detection process. The information that is collected is run through various algorithms to determine if a product that is missing from the shelf is in the building, how much has been sold, if it might be in a cart currently rolling around a store and so on. The system then builds a task list, and key employees are tapped to replenish the out-of-stocks.
“[Before] we could go all day long given certain circumstances and certain fires that have to be fought by the staff in the store and not replenish an item, disappointing our customers — not getting that sale,” said Mr. McCrae. “Now that we have the computer vision and we have our shoppers pushing these carts all over the place we’re being told within minutes, here’s where you’re missing product is, here’s where you have to replenish it.”
Pilot stores have also taken the next step of alerting direct store vendors to let them know when their product runs out to help them regulate their schedule.
“There’s really a whole ecosystem that’s being built around this information,” said Mr. McCrae.
In addition to improving customer satisfaction, Mr. McCrae sees this as a labor-saving solution, preventing the need to pay staff to roam the aisles to keep an eye on out-of-stocks.
Mr. McCrae also noted that using an automated solution to predict cashier downtime allows Wakefern to leverage cashiers to aid in shelf replenishment based on the Focal Systems camera data.
Also on the panel were Nick Saunders, senior vice president of Quiet Logistics and Vikrum Aiyer, head of strategic communications at Postmates.
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Will crowdsourcing the task of finding out-of-stocks via shopping carts prove to be an effective method of minimizing out-of-stocks? In what other ways might retailers hybridize technology and customer activity to crowdsource solutions to difficult in-store problems?