NEW YORK — Schnuck Markets is working to find the right balance between technology and digitization as it aims to focus on building its relationships with its customers and workers.
To that end, the Midwestern grocery chain has found that helping to make its workers’ jobs easier flows through to stronger customer relations, two of the grocers’ executives said during a Monday session at the National Retail Federation’s Big Show conference in New York City.
“If you have a happy employee base, that’s going to create a happy and loyal customer base,” Schnucks Chief Data Officer and Deputy CIO Tom Henry said.
That’s key in a competitive grocery market where Schnucks is leaning on its mission of “nourishing people's lives,” Henry and Kim Anderson, vice president of operations support at Schnucks, said.
As part of Schnucks’ journey to continue improving its relationships with customers and workers, the company has found itself breaking down silos with cross-department collaboration, the panelists noted. Henry and Anderson, for example, said that they often work together to identify problems and possible solutions, bridging their CIO and operations support teams.
Store associates also play a major role in helping corporate employees assess the success of in-store processes and tech deployments.
“I think one of the most valuable things we have done, which has spurred innovation, is going into the store and working alongside the teammate using these things that we’ve created and seeing if they’re actually achieving what we think theoretically they should achieve,” Henry said.
Schnucks has created a feedback loop between its store and corporate workers, allowing Anderson, Henry and other executives to learn from Schnucks’ frontline workers.
Using technology to support associates
Grocers often talk about deploying technology to save workers from menial tasks and give them more time for customer interaction. Schnucks demonstrated during the session how it has put that mindset into action and how the outcome produces benefits for both customers and workers.
When the Great Resignation sprung up during the pandemic, Schnucks rolled out a flexible labor option called Flexforce that allows workers to choose part-time shifts at store locations that fit their schedules while receiving the same benefits as traditional Schnucks employees.
While the flexible labor option initially aimed to address the labor shortage, Schnucks has found that the option is unlocking new opportunities to connect with its workers, Anderson said.
The grocer, through its partnership with software company Logile, can prioritize and communicate specific, key job responsibilities for the workers it has clocking in. Logile provides machine-learning software and industrial engineering solutions, including employee scheduling for gig workers, inventory management, and planning and forecasting. So, instead of having workers try to do 15 total things while they’re two people short, Schnucks can scale back the workers’ responsibilities to the most important tasks, Anderson said.
That prioritization of tasks not only helps keep workers from being overwhelmed but also gives them direction. “Everybody wants to be responsible for something,” Anderson said, noting that directing workers to handle specific tasks gives them a sense of purpose.
Along with the flexible workers, taking the unnecessary activities out of a person’s job gives them more time to interact with customers, they said.
For example, while Henry was working at a Schnucks store over the Christmas holiday, he said he was struck by a cashier named Ruby: “Every person who comes through that line knows her, knows her children. She knows their kids. There’s just a really interesting relationship that Ruby has with the community.”
Personnel planning connects to the grocer’s single forecasting planning. While some retailers will have several types of forecasting separately across marketing, merchandising or human resources, Logile developed for Schnucks a forecast that combines various factors, like staffing, production planning and more, Schnucks panelists said.
“If you’ve got one forecast driving how you’re going to staff the store based on demand and another actually informing the store on what to order and stock on shelves based on inventory management and another where you set your financial budgets, there is no common basing,” Henry said.
The forecast also allows them to run models in real-time and on a regular basis to stay updated on how weather or major events, like a hometown sports team victory, could impact demand.
Digitization doesn’t always elevate the customer experience
For customers, Schnucks has learned that sometimes tech for tech’s sake doesn’t lead to improved customer experiences.
After joining Schnucks, Henry, who previously worked in the healthcare industry, said he decided to digitize the grocer’s ads and build a model using sales and past ads to determine which ads to run by season. But Henry saw a “real allergic reaction” to digitizing the store ad, so the grocer converted back to its paper form.
“Once we introduced it, we found out that there is so much more to merchandising than just sales and what was in the ad. There’s supplier relationships. There are different nuances to the different day of a week that a holiday falls on,” Henry said. “All of these things were art within the merchandising arena.”
Now the grocer offers data insights to merchants as they decide what to put in the white space of the ad, but leaves the “art” of the print ad up to them, Henry said.
“There is a lot of art to retailing, there is a lot of art to merchandising,” Henry said.