The story behind the supermarket price wars; how voice-directed warehouse technology is driving the competition forward

The story behind the supermarket price wars; how voice-directed warehouse technology is driving the competition forward

By Darrel Williams, Regional Director, Northern Europe and South Africa, Vocollect Solutions, Honeywell

The retail industry is facing challenging times. Supermarket giants such as Sainsbury’s, Asda and Lidl continue to battle it out, cutting prices to boost profits by winning new customers. But whilst shoppers may be relishing the benefits of these conflicts with continuous offers of cheaper bread and other discounted grocery items in store, there is another story which is only just starting to unfold.

The advent of online shopping over the past five to ten years has forced supermarkets to run a more efficient, customer focused service. This high consumer demand and the rise in ecommerce have driven supermarkets to become reliant on warehouse technology, and in return, made warehouses and the workers play a more direct role to the customer – resulting in benefitting both the consumers and businesses.

Ever since supermarkets have introduced online shopping, they’ve been looking to become more consumer focused whilst continuing to drive down their own costs. Instead of the traditional supply chain where the order moves from warehouse, to delivery, to supermarket, to consumer – supermarkets are now looking to eradicate the double handling of goods.

According to Defra and the Office for National Statistics, in 2014, UK households spent £112 billion on food and drink, and the convenience of ecommerce has led to some 20% of adults now doing all or most of their grocery shopping online – confirming that the UK is leading in online grocery retailing in Europe (Mintel report). So how are the supermarkets able to keep up with such a demand? The answer comes from an efficient supply chain, and hence efficient warehouse operations. Through using voice solutions, warehouses are allowing the supermarkets to continue to be competitive. Retail back stores are coping with increasing demands as store chains aim to win new customers, keep current shoppers loyal whilst also enhancing the consumer experience.

Technology is giving the back of store worker more information than ever before. Vehicle mount tablets, laptops, voice systems all give workers real time data (rather than a paper trail) which handles the dynamic, changeable element of the information. Systems such as voice have come into play that work, not to overload the worker with information, but to give them necessary directions to perform their tasks at the most efficient level, simplifying the process whilst ensuring compliance with the customer’s order.

With voice, just the right amount of information at just the right time is provided to the worker, via a headset and a belt-worn device. This typically results in a reduction in errors, and with the correct processes enables a significant increase in quality of service to the customer. Voice solutions enable workers to complete tasks in a fast, more efficient manner, which is particularly beneficial to them if they are rewarded with performance-related bonuses, as is often the case. Voice technology also enables warehouse managers to maximise their workforce’s ability. As it instructs the worker on exactly what they need to do, they can easily be moved to different areas of the warehouse, and even different tasks if required.

Voice technology is the natural choice and a tool which empowers the worker without causing hindrance. With the use of voice technology, workers can typically achieve a 99.99% picking accuracy rate adding reassurance to the worker, the warehouse manager, the supermarket that will

eventually sell the goods and to the customer receiving their correct online order at home. In some cases workers have commented that since the introduction of using voice solutions they feel less stressed and have a better work/life balance due to the efficiency of the technology.

Consumer demand will continue to increase, so what’s next for voice? Whatever a worker does they can execute naturally and intuitively with voice as the technology will adapt to their needs. Supermarkets with voice- enabled warehouses are significantly improving their performance, in turn making them more competitive and able to offer a higher level of service.