Back-In-The-Box Thinking: How will retailers address the customer experience after re-opening in a restricted reality? [Free Whitepaper]

The COVID-19 virus has disrupted lives and economies around the world in an unprecedented fashion. While the initial deadly outbreak was dealt with relatively decisively and rapidly, the world is now experiencing “quarantine fatigue” in a real, tangible way. We’ve put together our thoughts in a 26 page Free Whitepaper. To access, click here. Thank […]

Measuring the Impact of COVID-19 on Retail Sales and OSA

Focal Systems is an expert and the go-to resource for Data Driven Retail. Their technology allows for “Deep Learning In Retail” and provides invaluable insight for retailers, especially at a time where inventory and supply chains have been upended.

Recently, Connors Group partnered with them on a blog post that explores Impact of COVID-19 on Retail Sales and OSA.

READ IT HERE

Connors Group – Top 5 Workforce Management Steps For Reopening

We’ve put together our top 5 steps for the successful reopening of your retail store. Click the link below to download.

DOWNLOAD the PDF HERE

How A Digital Workplace Can Relieve Labor Challenges In Warehousing and Distribution

If you’ve ever been to a distribution center where hundreds and sometimes thousands of employees converge at once, you know the hustle and complexity can feel like a small city.    Daily challenges are ever present to the workforce and management. 

Add to the fact that every few months a high percentage of that workforce will be brand new and require onboarding and training, businesses find themselves in an endless cycle and reality of a transient supply chain workforce.

 Ultimately, this type of environment, coupled with the complexity of today’s distribution center, begins to take a toll on the culture and overall productivity of the operation.

But what if there was a better way to engage the workforce and retain top talent? 

Reducing turnover while improving the learning curve can create synergies that begin to unlock the potential of the operation.  Creating a digital workplace to further employee engagement:

  • Creates communities for the hourly associates
  • Provides a communication platform where language barriers are broken down
  • Share SOPs and best practices among the workforce
  • Gamification can be used to motivate and recognize individuals

Additionally, the current state of Covid-19 has created the need to expediate a digital workplace by creating a direct line of communication to the frontline work force.  This is what we are currently seeing amid the pandemic crisis within the supply chain:

  • New workplace safety policies and operational procedures and protocols are being released sometimes daily and can be pushed across the network of distribution centers and warehouses delivering consistent messaging
  • Amazing stories and examples of executives and leaders sending motivational messages and information on health, safety and overall wellness, as well as a general gratitude for the sacrifices of the frontline workforce 
  • The Open Shift Marketplace allowing flexibility in scheduling and shifts as well as availability for open shifts to meet demand.

CLICK TO READ ==> Connors Group and WorkJam partnered to produce a white paper showcasing how a digital workplace can support overall labor and workforce strategies in warehousing and distribution.

Let us know what you think!

Radar Saved The World

Safi Bahcall has an interesting story in his recent book Loonshots about the use of radar in WWII.

The allies were losing the fight at sea against the well know U-boats of Germany. They were sinking more boats every month than could be built. As a result, Britain was down to 3 months of oil…and most likely in a position where they were3 months from Germany taking over Western Europe.

Imagine what our world would look like today if that happened?

It wasn’t until someone dusted off microwave radar that everything changed. Over the subsequent 4-week period, Hitler lost 1/3 of his U-boat fleet; more than any other year prior. Planes were flying over the sea and bringing down U-boats like a fish in a barrel. 6 weeks later, Germany pulled back all U-boats as the battle had been lost in the Atlantic.

The rest is history…

Questions:

  • Was this a new innovative tool that someone created to win the war?
  • How much testing (UAT testing) did the Navy need to go through to make this happen?

We invented radar over a decade, 18 years, before it was used…  

More questions:

  • Why didn’t we use it sooner?
  • What were the roadblocks?
  • Who from legal said, “No!”?
  • How many lives were lost due to leaving this innovative technology sitting on the shelf?

This story really brings to life the saying, “what got you here won’t get you there.”

This Pandemic has proven this in many ways. The traditional structure and mindset of modern business is great at managing and driving people to work within a box, primarily based on the rules that were written and proven years ago. But that model has been exposed…

“The businesses that will be successful will be the ones that learn how to operate and embrace the innovations that exist today and those yet to be created…”

They will learn how to move quickly and take risks in order to keep their business alive. They will remove roadblocks and challenge the status quo in order to keep their companies relevant in an ever-evolving world. They will question the naysayers in their organization. They will test and fail quickly. More importantly they will deploy quickly when success is perceived, not proven. Perfection will derail your progress. Even Apple deploys their new iPhone software every fall, knowing that issues will come up.

In this new world those that choose to beg for forgiveness vs. ask for permission will win.

What innovations are you sitting on that could change the battle you are fighting and turn the results of the war?

A) How many still are not embracing mobility with their workforce?

Many businesses during this pandemic have been left with old methods to communicate and as result are not reaching their workforce. With more than 90% of the United States using smart phones as the primary source to access the internet, why wouldn’t more business embrace mobile usage? For example, which is more important…not telling your associate to come in because the hours of the store have changed or not paying the compensable time for looking at their schedule on their phone?

Also…

  • Communication is falling flat or being lost all together.
  • Shifts in the essential (very busy) locations are not being filled because repeated phone calls to the associate aren’t picked-up and/or returned vs. having a mobile tool that will manage it.
    •  Maybe that is why toilet paper is empty on the shelf… no staff to stock it?
  • Associates aren’t knowledgeable about the change in operations because many businesses are still reliant on an outdated LMS tool, where memos and sitting in front of a computer for 15 minutes is the way it has always been done.
  • The list goes on…

B) How many have been holding onto an omni strategy: pick up in store, pick up at curb, delivery, etc. for months waiting for testing to prove it is vital or profitable?

  • Some retailers have feared Amazon for years and have continuously lost market share to them. Some haven’t been concerned because online was only 5% of their business and they deemed themselves so special that nothing could take it away. Both examples have unfortunately exposed what happens when businesses don’t embrace change or risk… now those business run the risk of closing for good

No one knows what business will look like after COVID-19, but the businesses that that looked at innovation and ran with it will rise from the ashes of this pandemic, stronger and ultimately more successful…

Life After the Pandemic – Start Paddling!

As a younger man I was a surfer…

Not an avid one, but when my family would head down to our home in Florida, I would gleefully hop on a board to try to catch a wave or two. I loved the feeling of getting up on the board and riding it all the way to the shore. One of the things you quickly learn is that you need to see the swell that will become your wave long before it gets to you, and then you start paddling to make sure you are in a position to catch that wave when it starts to break.

You start paddling before the wave gets to you…

Recently, I have been doing a lot of work in Australia; and on my last trip down under (before the world shut down) I was walking with a colleague along the beach on Manly Island. Watching the surfers there reminded me of the metaphor.

A lot of the work we are doing in Australia happens to be in the grocery space; and I’m privileged enough to be working with some visionary companies. Prior to the break, we were discussing options around delivery, pick-up, online picking strategies, etc. Companies like Woolworths were already paddling for the swell that was starting to break into a wave.

Unnatural Stimulus

Unfortunately, the COVID-19 swell has become a killer wave[1]. Prior to the outbreak, companies were paddling along, preparing for a nice 6-foot wave to ride to their next destination, and if they missed, they’d just paddle back out and try again. This is no longer an option.

Three phases of transition

To take the analogy a step further, grocers now have three levels of preparation that they need to consider:

Short-term/Until the restrictions are lifted

The waves keep hitting, and grocers need to figure out how to stay upright long enough to get their bearings. This means that there are immediate problems that need to be resolved in order to stay functional. Grocers are “paddling furiously” to keep up with the surge in demand, the shift in shopping patterns, and the safety precautions necessary to mitigate COVID-19. As a result, “normal” operations can take a back seat to “urgent” operations.

This includes such tactics as:

  • Limiting the number of items available in some categories as the supply chain catches up
  • Dedicated shopping times for certain groups (seniors, first responders, etc.)
  • Taking associate temperatures as they enter the building

These are short-term tactics that grocers have had to employ to avoid getting shoved under by the first killer wave.

Mid-term/ Until the threat is gone

As we get control of the board and can look around, we are finding that the wave we are on is not the only killer wave behind us. Some of the things that are happening now will not go away after we ride out the first round of threats.

Some of the more prevalent adaptations we are seeing are:

  • Elimination of self-service fresh and prepared food bars
  • Plexiglass shield between the customer and cashier
  • Limits on the number of customers in the building at one time
  • Floor markings showing safe “social distancing”

These changes may not be “permanent”, but until the disease is neutralized through testing and vaccination, they will be with us for a while.

Long-Term/Permanent Changes

After riding out the killer waves, some of the techniques that are learned become part of the new way of surfing. You learn that there are ways to control your board that you would never have had to figure out riding gentle 6-footers. Business is no different. Some of the things that grocers are doing now to deal with a crisis will become part of the “new normal” (pardon the repetition of an over-used phrase.) Some things, once out of the bottle, can never be put back in:

  • Emergence of omni-channel as an option of choice (pickup in store, Pick up at curb, parking lot delivery, home delivery, etc.)
  • Contactless payment (Voice commerce, Google and Apple pay, etc.)
  • Real-time communication with employees (WorkJam, Shyft, etc.)

For a more comprehensive look at the changes grocers are experiencing as a result of the pandemic, please see our infographic here

Successful retailers, for we should all learn from the first impacted sectors (like grocery, pharmacy and convenience), will be looking for ways to master these techniques before they are riding the wave.

Unnatural Response

Many of these “new” techniques are not new at all. Grocers have been “dabbling” at them for some time now. The difference is that, with the unnatural stimulus of COVID-19, companies need to adopt an unnatural response. They cannot afford to take a normal “test and evaluate” approach. Without a framework for thinking about this response, a lot of chaos and wasted effort is likely to ensue.

At Connors Group, we advocate a prioritized look at operations, and have found this to be especially applicable in times of rapid change.


Service Model

At its essence, the Connors Group model starts with defining the value proposition from the Customer’s perspective. In times like the present, this value is shifting. Retailers that were focused on price and convenience now need to place emphasis on things like sanitation and safety. It is all too easy to jump into the details of how to do different things before considering how all the changing elements will work together. Companies will be well-served to take the time to define what this looks like before jumping into the “how”. It is important to ensure that all stakeholders are aligned to this new dynamic. This should not be done in a silo.

Staffing Model

Once the objective is secured, the question shifts to “who” and “how” (“when” and “where” are natural offshoots of these). Companies need to consider what processes will need to be changed, who will perform the new process, and, most importantly, how these changes will be communicated and trained. In a perfect world, this would be done systemically and simultaneously to limit the impact of “change fatigue,” however this is a luxury that the first line of retailers has not been able to afford. One benefit of working in a crisis, however, is forgiveness for not being perfect on the first attempt. The key here is transparent, honest and frequent communication to the front-line employees who are impacted the most.

Leadership Model

Once processes have been changed, communicated and trained, it is vital for companies to put the right supporting mechanisms in place to sustain them. This step is easy to overlook in times of crisis. Systems as simple as checklists, daily walks and operational audits can help to make sure that change does not succumb to “muscle memory”. Many of our clients are looking to task management software (like Reflexis or Kronos) to help instill this discipline.

Operating Model

Finally, once operations have stabilized, companies need to look to ways to optimize their operations. Setting up picking and delivery operations to be functional may be the priority (stay on that board!), but ultimately, they need to be profitable. This means that the improvement process must be continual. Successful retailers will take this opportunity to develop a prioritized roadmap based on criticality to adapt to the changes for the long-term.

Natural Tendencies

Even with unnatural stimulus and response, natural tendencies will still kick in. In times like this, it is important that we remember that old patterns will be permanently changed. No one knows the extent of what those changes might be, but companies must be flexible enough to be able to react when what is normal deviates.

A perfect example of this will be the Back-To-School season. With so many schools shut down, it is difficult to predict what this might look like going into the 2020-2021 school year. As disruptive as the COVID-19 crisis has been to retail, it has been even more disruptive to education. Apart from the question of “when” schools will reopen (which is still unclear and will continue to be so for some time), the whole practice of education is being “unnaturally” changed.

Many school districts are adopting virtual learning and distance education. The best of these districts will learn from this experience and, like retailers, accept that there are some good practices that will be in effect until the disease is neutralized and many that should be permanently adopted. This will impact everything from school supplies lists, to how children go to school, to how schools are staffed. The only thing clear is that it is likely that the Back-To-School shopping season will be very different from what (and when) it was last year.

The clear lesson in the pandemic is that it is not enough to just “get through it.” Companies must accept that the world is permanently changed, and that even some of the “temporary” reactions will need to be in place for at least a couple of years while scientists race to develop and administer measures to neutralize the virus. Retailers will need to be prepared to live with many of these new conditions for the foreseeable future.

The whole concept of change management is crucial during this time…

Successful retailers will take a proactive approach to ensuring that their organizations are aligned to the required changes at all levels, and that the change is managed deliberately.

It important to remember that killer waves have a few characteristics:

  • Tons of pressure
  • Irresistible
  • They can be the ride of a lifetime…
  • … or take you out!

For those of us who are riding the wave right now, remember that it isn’t just about staying on the board (although that is our first priority), it’s as much about anticipating the next waves and having a plan to stay upright without so much pain and effort.

For those of us watching the wave and getting ready to jump into the water… start paddling now!


[1] A killer wave is one that, should you be unfortunate enough to wipe out in one, pushes a surfer 20 to 30 feet underwater with no idea which way is up. Add to that sense of confusion and urgency the fact that another wave is likely to hit within 20 seconds or so, and you can see why they are called “killer” waves.

Future of Supermarket Retailing – An Infographic

There are extreme measures being taken at supermarket retailers today to respond to this extraordinary period of time. Customer limits, line spacing, the shuttering of salad and hot bars and significant safety precautions are now the norm and might be here to stay…

Connors Group along with our friends at McMillan Doolittle have been discussing these changes and asking how might supermarkets look in the future?  This joint Infographic illustrates those conversations, thoughts and questions.

Future of Supermarket Retailing – An Infographic – DOWNLOAD HERE (133 downloads)

What do you think? We’d love to know.

Let’s talk…

Click here to leave feedback.

Life After the Pandemic –How Do We Get Our “Stuff”?

George Carlin centered one of his most famous acts around the concept of “stuff”. He famously said, “That’s all you need in life, a little place for your stuff.” We have built an entire retail economy around this concept, and we plan for months, if not years, in advance to keep the flow of “stuff” going. We are now faced with a difficult conundrum. The flow of “stuff” has been halted by COVID-19.

Life in the Time of Coronavirus

Life seems to have paused.

Connors Group, like many small businesses across the country, has all but eliminated travel. We are fortunate enough to be able to do much of our client work remotely. But strategic consulting is ultimately at its best when conducted face-to-face. We are sitting in front of our computers, hosting remote calls and meetings, and going about the business of helping our clients, but it is most definitely not the same.

Jeff Peretin, our CEO, and I have been discussing this over the last few days, and we decided that we should put out a blog for our people, our clients and our communities about the impact of the current situation. One thing we both agreed upon was that there were two things we did NOT want to do:

  • First, we did not want to make this a sales pitch or outline all the things we can still do without travelling.
  • Second, we did not want to discuss the (obvious) negative implications to a country whose economy has largely stopped.

We already get too many of those every day. But what did want to do, was offer some examples that show the good in our society and our humanity.

The one thing we can never get enough of is optimism…

I started thinking about the conversations I had with my grandparents about the Great Depression and the sacrifices their generation made during World War II. What always struck me as we had those conversations was the lack of bitterness, they had about everything they had to forgo. If you talk to anyone who is still alive from those times, you tend to hear more about pride, and sentimentality around the good they saw during those periods. They don’t talk about going hungry or the constant fear, worry and stress (although, if pressed, they will tell you that those were ever-present conditions.) Instead, they talk about the people who went out of their way to help those around them. They talk, with a sense of pride, about how they came out as stronger people with a vastly expanded sense of perspective.

As we endure this period, which we must admit is much less horrific than either of the situations our grandparents went through, we should try to engrave in our memories the positives we can see in our predicament…

Crises are never desirable. By their very nature they are dangerous and result from things outside our control, either through accident or lack of foresight. We could argue that the present crisis has an element of both. How we respond to a crisis can, however, yield some positives. As I considered the topic, I realized that crisis drives four things: Inspiration, Innovation, Personal (and Corporate) Growth, and most importantly, Hope.

Inspiration…

People get inspired when they have an opportunity to make a difference. We see examples of the positive sides of humanity in almost every crisis. One of the more interesting things I have seen in the current crisis is the invention of the term “caremongering”. This term was coined in Canada but can be seen everywhere. It refers to people offering help or care to those that need it most. Caremongering can mean obvious contributions such as delivering supplies or meals but is intended to include broader offerings such as running errands, setting up online exercise classes, or cooking and doing chores for others. Groups are making use of social media to broadcast the concept and the ways it can help the community. For a detailed description I refer you to this article in Fox News.

Innovation…

Companies are finding and embracing innovative platforms that might have otherwise taken years to be incorporated. For example, using tools to communicate with their distributed workforces and adapt things like schedules and availabilities in a very fluid situation. Products like WorkJam that offer shift swapping, real-time availability updates and schedule changes are making it possible to keep our essential businesses operational.

 Personal and Corporate Growth…

We are seeing this in a big way in the retail industry right now, specifically in grocery and restaurants. I think it is safe to say that the forced expansion of curbside pick-up and delivery will not be temporary. CNN published a fascinating article here that illustrates how impactful this change could be. This change in consumer preference will force grocers to transform their concept of how they operate. Successful grocers will find a way to make this their “new normal”, and adapt their model appropriately, which will benefit us all.

Hope…

To me, this is illustrated through the massive acts of human kindness we are seeing all over the world. Whether it is a balcony sing-along, a free virtual concert,  or a socially-distanced birthday celebration, we see that people truly care about each other. The acts of humanity during a crisis like this give us all hope that we are going to be just fine coming out the other side, and that if we need help it is literally next door.

I’d like to encourage us to share other examples of inspiration, innovation, growth and hope. We could all use some optimism, and we should take advantage of sharing it when we can. I don’t mean to downplay the seriousness or danger of the current situation. There are established outlets that do that for us on a regular basis. Please leave a comment or respond with any examples you have seen. Who knows, it might even make it into the next version of this blog…

A Deep Dive from Grocery Dive: Grocers race to keep their front lines trained and healthy

Grocery Dive,  a leader in providing in-depth journalism and insight into the most impactful news and trends shaping the grocery industry; interviewed our very own Chris Kelly recently to garner his thoughts on how Grocers are meeting the sudden and increased need for labor, while balancing onboarding challenges with the health and safety of their […]