Bringing Grocery Supply Chains Closer to Customers with Retail Extension Terminals

a woman standing in front of a store

As the grocery industry adapts to the COVID-19 pandemic, food markets must become more efficient in meeting changing customer needs. According to the Wall Street Journal, grocers are stockpiling “pandemic pallets” to better meet increasing demand due to both an expected second wave and the upcoming holiday shopping season.

Consumers are also taking advantage of new ways to shop safely. While large national grocers typically maintain large warehouse networks, robust supply chains and existing e-commerce capabilities that can adapt to these changes, smaller ones don’t have these luxuries.

Smaller markets must improve in-store systems and supply chain integration to maintain sales amidst socially-distant shopping behaviors and eGrocery growth. To meet these needs, stores can use a retail extension terminal to bring the supply chain closer to the customer for a host of pandemic-friendly e-commerce features.

Back-end integration and Enabling E-Commerce

Inefficiencies in back-end systems relating to stocking and replenishment can trickle down and negatively impact the customer experience, especially with online ordering. If an item is out of stock, it is easy for in-person shoppers to find alternative products, but can be challenging for eGrocery when personal shoppers need to contact the customer for acceptable alternatives, or even worse, not be able to find a suitable replacement at all.

Whether the goal is to provide customers with curbside pickup, delivery or simply having a more efficient stocking system, a highly functional, stable and well-integrated e-commerce infrastructure, including the eStore, and all integrations with backend systems and third party providers, is critical to compete in today’s retail environment.

For smaller stores, this means supporting a website that allows customers to place orders online, rather than the typical “location and store hours” information that is now the focus of most smaller grocers’ websites.

Retail extension terminals

Once a basic e-commerce site is established, retail extension terminals can be utilized to bring the supply chain closer to the customer by enabling point-of-sale (POS) and other customer-centric functionality on tablets, which streamlines the shopping experience. While initially used for pop-up store locations that have all but disappeared due to COVID-19, retail extension terminals can be repurposed for grocery chains to create safe and socially distant shopping experiences.

Retail extension terminals offer sales associates a clear picture of a store’s inventory and location.

Once fully integrated with back-end systems, these POS terminals can be used for much more than purchases including managing store queues, sharing item location and availability, and creating customer profiles.

Below are the benefits grocery chains can gain from retail extension terminals:

Store Queue Management:Capacity limitations resulting from the pandemic are difficult for smaller stores, and it can be frustrating for a customer to arrive only to find a line outside. Queue management systems virtually add shoppers to the line, and notify them when it is their turn to enter. Guests won’t be stuck physically waiting in a line, but can wait in their car or browse retail stores nearby.

Item Location/Availability: Consumers are increasingly shopping for groceries online, from the store itself or third-party companies (i.e. Instacart) for curbside pickup or delivery. Retail terminals that are seamlessly integrated with back-end systems can help personal shoppers locate items and determine availability. As the shopper fulfills the order, sharing locations on a screen can reduce time in store. If a customer's first pick is out of stock, the shopper can notify the order recipient and ask for an alternative.

Curbside Pickup:With the rise of eGrocery, customers are opting to order their groceries online and pickup in the store. Retail extension terminals offer sales associates a clear picture of a store’s inventory and location, meaning they can pick items quickly on behalf of the shopper, and be notified when the person has arrived. It not only enables the functionality to offer this process without third-party providers, but also makes it a more seamless experience.

Customer Profiles:Retail extension terminals can save customer profiles, allowing stores to keep track of order history and payment information for a seamless experience. Customer profiles personalize shopping and can equip stores with insights into shopping habits as well.

a man wearing glasses and smiling at the camera
Matt Carroll

New shopping trends are not going away anytime soon, meaning grocers of all sizes need to develop systems to meet changing consumer attitudes. Smaller grocers can handle shifting shopping preferences and behaviors with system integration that paves the path for innovative in-store shopping.

Efficiently integrated back-end systems allow for the use of front-end technology like retail extension terminals to make a trip to the grocery store more efficient for customers.

Matt Carroll is CEO of Ignition Commerce.