Keeping on top of product expiry dates can be complicated for any business but in grocery it is critical. Our customers want fresh products, and displaying out-of-date items can lead to reputation damage. On top of this, customers expect an active price management as the expiry date approaches. All this puts significant pressures on stock management, amplified as stores seek to expand the range of fruits and veggies. Anything that we can do to help guarantee we offer the freshest of products with minimal operational overhead is welcome.
Behind the scenes, delivering the right experience for today’s in-store customers involves a number of interlinked steps. We need to consider the journey from storage to shelf, sample testing by category and stock rotation schemes. The ongoing expansion of product lines makes it more and more difficult to sustain the expected quality. In Carrefour Italy we found that our manual process of tracking products near the expiry date was impractical and time consuming. More so, as most products leave the store long before the expiration date, it was inefficient. We wanted to find a better solution and we decided to partner with Publicis Sapient to make it happen.
We applied Employee Experience (EX) thinking to design and build a digital “shelf-life monitoring” mobile app. This article describes the process we followed and shares our views on the value of EX.
What is Employee Experience and why is it important?
Nowadays, the discipline of Customer eXperience (CX) is well established in the corporate world. It has become a priority for businesses that seek to engage with today’s customer. Good and bad CX influences not only the engagement but also brand perception. It begins at the moment a customer enters a store or lands into a brand’s website and continues through the whole customer journey: from a simple visit, to a purchase or a contact through customer care. Today, customers’ loyalty is no longer on a price or a product alone; good CX is key to building long-standing relationships.
Just as CX puts customers at the center, employee experience puts employees at the center. The better their experience is, the happier they are and the better they perform at their job, in turn enhancing CX (as they will be working for your end-customers, effectively turning the company org chart upside-down).
When looking to design a new employee app, we considered our employees as customers with the same high standards and expectations. Our staff uses WhatsApp, Facebook and Messenger and, just like for our customers, these apps set the standards of how people expect their digital environment to work. The time when employee tools were dominated by “one-size fits all” solutions and standard platforms is no longer acceptable. Instead, design is needed to offer a best-in-class experience to employees.
The thinking behind employee experience is to apply the same principles of customer centricity and agility used to develop a CX digital project:
- Co-create the vision with the different departments of the organisation, working with employees hand in hand from the very beginning.
- Start prototyping as soon as possible to iterate fast and frequently. New features needed to be tested by employees to instantly implement any suggestions and fix potential problems as early as possible, hence reducing rework.
An EX-first project for Carrefour Italy
In designing the new shelf-life monitoring app, Carrefour Italy adopted an employee experience-first approach. The objective was to create an app to help our store managers and category operators automate tracking of expiring products and accelerating seek and removal tasks.
Co-creating the vision
As a first step, product designers worked closely with store employees to understand their daily tasks and re-imagine them digitally. This involved interviews on the usage of digital tools by our employees, observation, analysis of current tooling and comparison with market research.
As an example of the insights this process yielded, we found our in-store employees would use our “shelf-life monitoring” app every day for an average of 1 hour! This is indeed a very significant share of their day and therefore we needed to prioritise ease-of-use and speed.
We then pulled the employees into the design process and used visual prototypes to get rapid feedback. We developed the first prototype only a few weeks after launch. It was not perfect for sure, but we preferred to put something tangible in the hands of our employees, fast. Throughout the whole development and testing stages, the team made sure that the prototype evolved, answering the problems that we identified.
Prototypes were a useful tool as they enabled us to rapidly share and get feedback on the user interface – especially in terms of navigation, attributes and information. We used analytics on the app to monitor the actual use and make accurate changes.
The shelf-life monitoring app
The resulting app is an exercise in simplicity. From the employee’s perspective, it allows them to do two things: Set-up alerts and check alerts. Once alerts are created on a product, employees are notified when the product is close to the expiration date in order to take the necessary actions.
Alert set-up functionality
This functionality allows the inventory of products to be monitored. It sets up an alert for each product specifying the expiration date and the product location within the store.
Two types of alerts can be set: The short-term alert notifies that the product’s expiration date is very close, and the product needs to be removed from the shelf. The long-term alert notifies the employee when the product’s expiry date is approaching. That way, they can take the necessary actions such as putting the product on promotion or changing the location of the product in the store.
Setting up the alert is easy. The employee just needs to scan the product’s barcode using the smartphone’s standard features, fill in the expiry date and the in-store location (aisle, sector, shelf).
Alert check functionality
The alert check functionality displays a list of alerts due on the day, split by alert type (short-term and long-term) and product category. Each set of alerts is a mission that needs to be accomplished.
Upon logging-in the employees accept their mission and, for each alert, they verify if the product is still on the shelf. If it is, the employee must take the necessary actions depending on the alert type. If the product is no longer on the shelf, it is marked as “out of stock” (OOS). OOS products will entail logistic availability checks.
We used three key principles in the design of our app:
- Data-driven automation – The order of the missions sent through the app is automatically adjusted to gain in process productivity and efficiency. Employees are also encouraged to take on several missions at a time. For example, an employee can simultaneously verify expiring dates of some products and perform restock operations on shelves that are close by.
- Accountability – Each mission is assigned to a single employee, and not to the manager. We want our employees to strive to make a difference on every product!
- Demonstration of value – To maximize adoption, we wanted to guarantee that the shelf-monitoring app will yield real benefits for our employees. Thus, we made an experimentation putting two employees “in competition”: one was checking products manually, the other one used the app. Guess who was faster? The employee using the app of course! This test also helped to make sure the employees understood how the app works in an entertaining way.
The foundations of the app’s architecture are built on our Google Cloud Platform (GCP), leveraging a set of APIs based on Apigee. Combining these two main components, we were able to connect the app with the legacy systems really fast and successfully implement the shelf-life monitoring on the PM80 Android devices already in use in the stores.
The mobile app’s front-end was implemented with IONIC, in order to be compatible both with iOS and Android. The latest version is now supporting the PM80 device.
This back-end logic has been implemented in Java and deployed to a GKE cluster with auto-scaling, while the persistence storage is provided by Cloud SQL PaaS services. The back-end services run on up to 5 PODS with 1vCPU and 5GB Memory each.
The choice of technology, solution and architecture was in line with Carrefour’s global tech strategy: We move to the public cloud, we communicate using APIs and we embrace open source. This was a good reflection of how Carrefour tech is transforming globally.
As a data-driven company, we measure success in KPIs. For this project we have been monitoring three core metrics:
- The percentage of use of the app – In this specific KPI, we track the percentage of stores that tracked at least 1 product and the percentage of stores that tracked at least 100 products, per region and per format (hypermarket, market and express). For example, from February 8 to 14, 95.0% (+3,9% vs week before) of the stores scanned at least one product and 91,8% scanned over 100 products (+4,6% vs week before).
- The number of products tracked – For each store, the objective is to track 100% of their products. For the past weeks, we have seen this KPI develop exponentially. For example, in February 2021, the Carrefour market in Varese (north east from Milan) scanned 2703 products vs. 81 in January!
- The number of categories – And of course we want 100% of the stores’ products scanned… for 100% of the categories. For example, we saw that the hypermarket in Limbiate (north from Milan) scanned products belonging to 81 different categories vs. 3 in January!
The app’s usage rate amongst stores reflects one of our key achievements: A simplified experience for our users. Manual actions are limited and mission prioritisation is automated. This means less training is needed and tech support processes are simpler. We have also seen positive effects on employee morale as they have more time to do other activities, in particular spending more time with customers in the store! In fact, employee feedback has been extremely positive as the new app makes their job easier.
Giacomo Beconcini (operations): “The new app allows an important time saving compared to the previous “control mode”, as well as a more specific action to solve problems”.
Roberto Caiazzo (Lodi store director): ”The volume of expired products decreased a lot, we monitor better fresh products coming from external cooperatives, and I see synergies between the expiry control operations and restock products on the shelf”.
Giuseppe Criscuolo (director of operational effectiveness and simplification): “Our store colleagues gave us very positive feedback on the ease of use of the app. This experience has shown us the added value that retail digital transformation can bring to our operational processes and I hope that this is only the first of many successful initiatives”.
After two successful pilots in July 2020, about 400 stores use this app today. Our aim is to roll out the shelf-life monitoring app to all stores in the country. This is a success we are very proud of!
From an app to an integrated employee experience roadmap
Looking forward, we will build on the experience with the shelf-life monitoring app to improve employee experience across Carrefour Italy. By putting the employee experience at the heart of our thinking, we aim to build an ecosystem of digital experiences for our internal workforce.
We are now developing an ambitious EX roadmap for Carrefour Italy. The roadmap will include initiatives like e-commerce pick-to-light and redesigned store back-office ops.
Check our other articles related to digital in-store projects.