Editor’s note: This is the final installment of a four-part series sponsored by Par Technologies. For Parts 1 through 3, please see the links below. 

About one in four households —23 percent to be exact — in the United States purchase groceries online, according to research by the Nielsen Company and Food Marketing Institute that shows the percentage is on its way up.

“We expect that household penetration will continue this rapid growth over the next 10 years. Overall, 72 percent of shoppers surveyed expect to buy groceries online in the future and that number jumps to 80 percent for millennials,” FMI says in “The Digitally Engaged Food Shopper” report.

“Furthermore, of those who will buy online, 60 percent expect to spend over a quarter of their food dollars online in 10 years. By comparison, today only 30 percent of online shoppers expect to spend more than a quarter of their food dollars online. So, the number of online grocery shoppers and the share of food spend happening online will grow significantly over the next decade.”

As food retailers evolve to keep up with a changing market place, many are implementing the omnichannel approach, a multi-market platform to give consumers the ability to shop seamlessly, from online to in-store.

However, with additional channels come additional challenges, including the need for a transparency. Three of those challenges involve food safety, customer expectations and transparency with inventories.

Food safety
In order to be in compliance with the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), food retailers with yearly revenues surpassing $1 million must keep two years worth of food safety records on hand, and produce them in a reasonable amount of time in the event of an unexpected inspection.

As Internet of Things (IOT) technology becomes more prevalent, many food retailers are ditching the mountains of paper documents for data storage in a centralized online location, aka “the cloud.” IOT, which connects sensors tracking real-time data, such as location and temperatures, to a storage base is not only giving companies essential food safety information right at their fingertips, but the ability to make better business decisions with the data collected.

Customer expectations
You know the saying, “the customer is always right?” Well, omnichannel shoppers are no exception. If anything, they are a bigger challenge for food retailers to please while juggling a cohesive shopping experience from online to storefronts. A common challenge in handling customer expectations is delivery of products.

Not only is a company responsible for the food safety challenges of transporting fresh food products to a customer’s doorstep, but cumbersome challenges of cancelled orders and changed order times. Food retailers using IOT to monitor food safety conditions are able to use the real-time tracking data to record information such as who and when the order was accepted, product temperature at the point of exchange and route of delivery to the customer.

Another challenge in managing customer expectations is delivering on promises to consumers by having adequate inventory on hand. While a shopper in store can physically see if products are no longer on shelves, online shoppers expect a product to be available when they click the “checkout” button.

And, while having inventory in stock is important, avoiding food waste due to inventory surplus adds another variable to an already complicated equation. For many food retailers radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags can be an asset in keeping inventory transparent by providing current stock locations and amounts.

To read the first three parts of this series, use these links:

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