Inspired by the recent crisis of Covid-19, the demand for basic necessities increases as people start self-isolating due to self-imposed or government-imposed lockdown. With only a limited number of stores allowed to be open, with stricter lockdown laws, people throng the available stores to stock up (or panic buy) their groceries.
This is a concept of possibly another way a shopper can buy groceries from stores. Currently the different modes are delivery, click 2 collect and walk-in. As the demand for basic necessities surge in many countries where the population is going through a lockdown, we need to find more ways to automate the process of getting groceries to shoppers whilst making sure there is a fair distribution of supplies to everyone. As seen many times over the news and social media, it has become very important to protect the weaker against the selfish hoarders. In regards to the first two methods - delivery and click 2 collect, it requires an increase in the current workforce whenever the demand increases, especially in the current climate where the spike can be significant. It makes it impossible to cope and the bottleneck is often the number of staff needed to pack and deliver (with the assumption we have ample supplies). As a matter of fact, all slots for delivery and click 2 collect at all major supermarkets in the UK are currently unavailable until further notice (April 14 for some) due to the overwhelming demand. One way to automate is to replace manual workforce with robots for packaging and driverless transports. The last method, involving shoppers walking into the supermarket to shop has its own problems, but is also the only one that scales accordingly to demand with less cost.
The proposed solution is similar to what is currently available in most supermarket websites, where users are able to browse through the catalog, add to their basket and checkout. Upon checkout, they are asked to book a delivery slot or a slot for click 2 collect. They would be presented with choosing an available slot. After selecting their slot, they would make a payment for their groceries and wait for their groceries to be packed and delivered.
The flow is pretty much similar, except instead of choosing a slot for delivery or collection via click 2 collect, they choose a slot for them to visit the supermarket for them to collect their own order. The difference between fast checkout and click 2 collect is the former requires the shopper to collect their own item at the respective aisle, while the latter requires a worker to pack the groceries and leave it at a collection point for the shopper to collect their bag of groceries.
The shopper proceeds to visit the supermarket at the chosen/allocated time, picking up items they ordered online and have paid for. Each shopper will be given a handheld device to scan the items (inspired by Waitrose) that they have picked up. Depending on supplies, shoppers can be restricted to only buying items that have prepaid online. However it can also allow users to pay for extra items that are not part of their order. Once they have collected their item, they can then proceed to check out, return the handheld devices and pay for the extra items.
To control the crowd, shoppers are encouraged to enter the supermarket at their allocated time, where they are given priority vs to those who are walking in without a booked slot (except for vulnerable persons), where walk in has a separate queue and limited to a certain number each time. It is pretty similar to how certain theatres and attractions control their crowd.
- Crowd control by ensuring shoppers do not throng the supermarket at peak times or at the same time.
- Being able to predict the demand each day and stock up accordingly.
- Limit the shoppers' purchase upfront, e.g. they may be allowed to buy a maximum of 3 items of the same kind.
- As every online user will need to provide an address, it allows the supermarket to monitor each household purchases, not allowing any household purchase excessively. This is something that would not be impossible with walk-ins e.g. at the moment a shopper is still able to buy an excessive number of hand sanitizers.
- As shoppers usually have their orders booked, it reduces the amount of time they are in the supermarket. It allows a quicker turnaround, however, shoppers can also shop around if they would like to.
- As incoming orders spike temporarily (or longer depending on Covid-19), it is still more scaleable than doing a delivery or click 2 collect as the workforce can be doing delivery to those who are more vulnerable or helping to restock the shelves. Management would need to hire less or reshuffle the teams which help when the demand decreases.
Challenges I ran into
Creating a video to prove this idea is difficult as I do not have the expertise and it requires multiple systems that are customized to each supermarket chain. I had to create a walkthrough of the concept without much video expertise, but also with the lockdown limited access to the supermarkets. At the end, I created a video by stitching to existing videos together (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yR-xatUain4, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OQxx7tN8oe4)
Accomplishments that I'm proud of
What I learned
Writing this proposal taught me about being more systematic in pitching ideas.
What's next for Checkout fast
Hoping that the stores will be able to implement a better way for shoppers to get groceries in a safer and more timely manner without much panic.