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As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, the roller coaster businesses are facing shows no sign of slowing down. The supply chain challenges, rising inflation, and labor shortage continue to be lows on this pandemic ride. But there are numerous opportunities that offset the dips and take businesses to a higher level. 

Specifically for grocery stores and restaurants, people still need to eat. With all eyes on the constrained labor market, we take an unorthodox UX approach and focus our eyes on the pain points and needs of today's restaurant and grocery workers, and how businesses can set them up for success. 

Problem #1: Item availability 

Unpopular opinion: Forget loyalty 

Supply chain unpredictability is that dip on the roller coaster that you know is coming. You see it up ahead and your anticipation anxiously builds. Instinct tells you to stop your cart, to slow things down, but you barrel ahead at an uncontrolled, accelerated speed until the floor drops out from beneath you and the cream cheese is nowhere to be found.  

Out-of-stock items are like those rollercoaster drops, often the worst being the ones you can see rather than the curve out of left field. While you cannot stop them from happening, you can offer suitable alternatives when items people want are unavailable. Consumers may be coupon clipping day-to-day, but when it comes to getting that perfect bagel-joy in the morning, they are often okay paying the premium if the option is offered.  

Improving the gathering and use of consumer data can lead to improving substitutions and anticipating consumer needs, it could even change their brand choices when their favorites become hard to find. How to improve this? You may not be able to fix the stock, but you can own the screen. Out-of-stock notifications early in the process give employees and consumers time to substitute. And making recommendations based on their previous shopping behaviors saves time for the employee and provides a personalized experience for the customer. 

Out-of-stock notifications early in the process give employees and consumers time to substitute.

Problem #2: Labor shortage 

Unpopular opinion: Prioritize automation over your people 

Ready for the next big drop? Labor shortages, and they are here to stay. The grocery and restaurant industries are continuing to face hiring and retention challenges, but it has not stopped demand as consumer needs continue to increase.  

Turning to automation can help offset labor shortages and meet the heavy influx of in-store and digital consumption. Self-checkout kiosks, aisle-scanning robots, and directional digital signage can provide support to workers that need to be stocking shelves and getting delivery orders ready.  

The workforce can feel threatened by the mere mention of automation, for fear that they will be replaced by an algorithm. But automation can elevate a workers' role and allow them to oversee several tasks at once instead of getting overworked and experiencing burnout. This leads to increased operational efficiencies, better working conditions, benefits, and salaries, which in turn makes these jobs more appealing to workers as unemployment checks are tapering off. 

Automation can elevate a workers' role and allow them to oversee several tasks at once.

Problem #3: Training 

Unpopular opinion: Not everything should be digitized 

While automation is the future, it is not a magic fix. To turn these stomach drops into excitement and anticipation of what is around the next turn, automation must be based on human-centered solutions. Overcomplicating processes and tasks that consumers and employees must perform with technology for technology's sake is a slippery slope. If analog is working, do not force a digital solution where it is not needed. Find your balance by building and designing your products with the process and training in mind. Point-of-sale systems can not only provide speed of service, but also training for employees. 

Visualizations of food items on the POS can provide many opportunities for new employees to become familiar with the menu. 

An intelligent Kitchen Display System (KDS) can help employees manage priorities between someone in the drive-thru, an online order and a walk-in. 

Problem #4: Theft 

Unpopular opinion: Forget restriction 

While we are on this ride, we cannot forget about our harness. It is keeping us securely in place through the ups and the downs. The seatbelt has enough give that we can raise our hands, scream at the top of our lungs, and look to our colleagues to see how they are doing over there. Overtly restrictive measures are not going to increase security, they often just prevent good employees from being great. Having bottlenecks in roles often helps increase the frequency of high-stress moments. For example, during a rush with no end in sight, a manager may share their password for an override because the customer is upset, and they are already in the middle of solving a different problem.  

Instead of restricting, creating back-end solutions that can take the burden off the employee and the manager to stop bad actors. Instead, let's have smart tracking, flag suspicious activity, and create a transparent environment that keeps the make line flowing. For example, if a manager's code is used to access the safe, the computer knows that manager is off duty, it is flagged and sent off to review along with the backroom camera footage.  

Create back-end solutions that can take the burden off the employee.

These digital experiences noted above are never meant to replace workers in these environments. Human workers play a critical role in a consumer's experience, and they are what can take a good experience and make it great. The way businesses handle the struggles our workers face today is what can catapult them into the future. Instead of being an observer on the coaster, businesses need to aim to drive it. WWT Digital is here to help you pave the way, anticipate the sharp turns and drops, and use technology to drive improved experiences for your workers and customers.