If your store is constantly running out of stock on fresh food items, it’s time to invest in a good inventory management system. Because if you’ve ever been to a grocery store and couldn’t find the item you were looking for, then you know how frustrating it can be. Not only is it time-consuming to have to search through every aisle, but it can also be difficult to find a substitute for the item you’re looking for.
This is a common experience – in fact, perishable foods account for an estimated 38.9% of the total value of products frequently running out of stock in the retail sector.
Spoiled or missing fresh produce can turn a good customer experience into a memorably bad one. Still, as a grocer, you can’t just endlessly stock up as you’d risk wasting food and losing profit.
Let’s see how smart inventory management and effective e-commerce can help you walk the thin line between spoilage and dissatisfied customers.
Smart inventory management for fresh food
It’s crucial to have the right amount of fruits, vegetables, meats, and other fresh produce on the shelves. Too little can lead to lost sales – too much can lead to waste. Because fresh food is perishable, grocers must find effective ways to replenish it.
However, optimized replenishment can be difficult for many reasons, including seasonality, changing customer preferences, and changing food characteristics. For instance, when selling organic food, the durability of each order can vary: Weather conditions such as intense sunlight exposure can shorten shelf life, and customer demand for organic products can be affected because of price fluctuations.
To determine required inventory, grocers must identify patterns over time by collecting sales and order data:
- How much is sold of each item category over a while?
- How do events and seasons (e.g., Christmas) change customer demands of specific produce?
- What different ripeness levels do customers order (some might prefer ripe avocados for immediate use, other customers buy them days in advance)?
- What factors lead to manufacturers delaying delivery or dropping out (for instance, due to low crop yields)?
To make inventory management less laborious, you might need to reduce the variety of inventory and focus on a smaller selection – allowing more accurate stock-level insights. Furthermore, you need to factor in surprises. Sometimes producers experience long delays due to a fruitless harvest. That’s why it is vital to have a list of alternative suppliers that you can contact to restock your shelves.
Modern grocers looking to track sales and identify long-term patterns can invest in an automated inventory system that can integrate with the point-of-sale (POS) system and e-commerce. Inventory management systems constantly collect data, counting every inventory in and out, offline, and online. With an improved understanding of customer behavior and inventory data, stores can use marketing to influence orders. If you’re running out of Granny Smith apples, smart inventory can suggest your digital customers to buy Pink Lady – and offer an enticing discount on top of that.
Optimizing e-commerce operations for fresh produce
There are a few additional hurdles associated with fresh produce when it comes to e-commerce and delivery.
- You need to ensure that fresh or frozen products are always properly chilled when delivering them. Those who pack chilled goods should fill them last, right before the customer or delivery person picks the bags up.
- If you offer pick-up or curbside delivery, use an appropriate cooling method such as refrigerated trucks, and cooling storage to maintain the adequate temperature for fresh goods, such as meats, cheeses, and milk.
- Pickers need to be trained to carefully pack fruits and vegetables that spoil quickly when touched or squeezed. Furthermore, biodegradable cotton bags can help preserve freshness and save natural resources.
- Finally, online catalogs and shopping tools should allow for customization. A customer should be able to choose between an “eat-today” and an “eat-tomorrow” avocado. Take care that your staff selects food of good condition and always caters to particular customer requests.
- Additionally, a simple chat tool for pickers and customers to communicate specific requests can work wonders in the shopping experience.
An estimated one-third of all food produced goes to waste. Spoilage not only has a direct impact on revenue but is also an environmental no-go when you consider how much energy, water, and land are used to grow it. That’s why effective inventory management, trained staff, and marketing efforts can not only help increase profits but also save our planet’s resources.
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