Lately, everybody is talking about new technologies, digital transformation, cloud, IoT, Big Data… But what does it really mean, and the way it helps in grocery retail daily operations? Online grocery sales remain a very small portion of total sales, which suggests grocery stores are here to remain. Daily operations haven't changed much. So, how can we use these new technologies to assist store associates to do daily work easier?
Cloud technologies have been available for several years. Nowadays, the cloud is definitely used. Many business systems are available as cloud services, which makes it easy to configure and use.
The same goes for IoT. Since connectivity became omnipresent, technology companies are seeking how to attach everything to the web. We've heard of plans to attach home refrigerators to the web. Today, there's a plethora of home management systems like alarms, sensors, HVAC management, and cameras. But in grocery stores, we haven’t seen much of IoT technologies in use.
Grocery store’s operations haven’t changed much. On top of that, there are many other processes in stores connected with food safety compliance. Since food safety is the favorite of each grocery retailer list, compliance processes are quite important.
"Since connectivity became omnipresent, technology companies are seeking how to attach everything to the Internet"
The most time-consuming process in food safety compliance is refrigerator temperature control. Twice each day, each refrigerator must be checked for the temperature. Supermarket employees are spending on average two hours per day just to see temperatures. On top of the giant time spent, there's the cost of rotten food just in case of refrigerator fault and price of refrigerator repair.
This is the perfect case to utilize IoT and Cloud technologies to form daily operations in grocery easier and more efficiently. The thought was to deploy temperature sensors in refrigerators to urge three main benefits: automate temperature readings to save lots of working hours, recognize incorrect temperature so we will alarm store personnel to save lots of food and reduce the cost of rotten food. The third benefit was to decrease maintenance costs with better preventive maintenance. After the system recognizes there's something unusual happening with temperatures, information is shipped to the maintenance team for refrigerator inspection and repair.
After checking available systems, we decided to use the system from technology startup KnowIT. They need developed temperature sensors, a Cloud system for recording readings and analysis tools. We've been ready to achieve all three planned benefits.
Store employees aren't wasting any longer time on checking temperatures since sensors do it more often and far more efficiently. We've set up sensors to read temperature every hour which provides us 24 readings per day rather than only two. Data is shipped to the Cloud system 3 times per day if temperature readings are in the expected range. If the readings are out of the expected range, data is shipped immediately therefore the system is in a position to alarm store employees and maintenance.
Based on hourly temperature reading, the Cloud system creates the usual temperature profile for every sort of refrigeration equipment using machine learning algorithms. This functionality proved to be very useful for better recognition of unexpected temperatures. As an example, most refrigerators haven't any frost functionality which suggests that the refrigerator will increase temperature out of normal range and after jiffy get the temperature back. Without a proper profile of any frost characteristics, the system might be alarming for no reason causing even more work for store employees.
In this case, IoT, Cloud, and machine learning have brought real-world changes to grocery operations. Store employees aren't dalliance for the work technology is capable of. Saved time is invested into better customer service which produces better customer experience. On top of that, there's less garbage and savings on maintenance costs.