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The problem of picking online orders at retail stores

To save money, some retailers employ staff to pick online order items from retail store shelves instead of dedicated warehouses. According to Peter Ward of retail technology company Pricer, this can have an adverse effect on customers by jamming shopping aisles.

A survey of 100 retailers found that 39% of them feel pressure to use retail stores to fulfil e-commerce orders. Ocado is the only online grocery retailer that fulfils online orders from a warehouse. The other supermarkets that accept online orders say it is not profitable to use warehouses unless they significantly raise delivery charges.

Staff feel stretched dealing with both online orders and retail customers. This has led to checkout delays and staff with aisle picking trolleys getting in the way of customers. Additionally, items become out of stock if there is heavy demand to satisfy online orders.

Peter Ward suggests that automation, rapid scanning using hand-held devices and pick-to-light technology for rapid-order item location are the solution. Technology can increase picking rates from 25 items per hour to 140 or more.

While technology means fewer staff are needed to process online orders, Peter Ward believes employee numbers should not be cut. Instead, they can be redeployed to spend more time with customers. In busy stores, customer service can have a low priority, but by spending less time picking online orders, staff can focus more on customer service needs. Staff who deal more with customers have greater job satisfaction and are less likely to resign.

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