How to optimize staffing for grocery store peak times

Don’t wing it when it comes to staffing your grocery store. Use data-driven insights and tools to help you best determine your peak times and the slow times so you can staff your stores accordingly.

How to optimize staffing for grocery store peak times

Research shows grocery stores in the U.S. average 29-41 million shoppers each day. And after analyzing data from three separate studies, Business Insider found that early morning hours are the least crowded in supermarkets across the country, with foot traffic heating up around noon, and stores staying high-traffic until the hour before closing.

Keep in mind those numbers were reported during the pandemic, so they could change as consumer behaviors continue to be in flux. With that in mind, it's more critical than ever for grocery stores to analyze data around peak store hours to make the best staffing decisions.

Optimizing staff scheduling for your grocery store depends on several factors—from having the right technology in place to track peak times, to having a flexible workforce that’s able to cope with your traffic’s peaks and valleys. So, how is your tracking and staffing going?

 How to calculate peak times for your grocery store

Get the right software. Many grocery store operators create weekly staffing schedules using workforce-management software. That way, they can use revenue forecasts to schedule more store employee shifts when sales are projected to be at their highest. You can also employ software that forecasts volume drivers such as revenue per department per hour or inventory flow for each store based on regression models and store-manager experience.

Use footfall data. When it comes to supermarket traffic, it's essential to take the guesswork out of the equation entirely. So, you'll want hard data to help you pin point peak times to develop a strategy to best manage them. Footfall counters (not the handheld kind, but the various technologies that track customer activities) offer tangible evidence of the times customers are most likely to visit your store. You’ll want to access the data early and often to understand what's happening in real time.

Analyze customer behavior. Other metrics that can help you identify staffing needs include individual store sales, transactions, and units sold, as well as workload calculations that estimate the time it takes to complete certain activities in your store, like restocking the shelves, for example.

Gain customer loyalty program insights. Data generated from your store's loyalty program is another way to analyze customer behaviors. You can discover when the greatest number of customers are coming into the store and scanning their loyalty cards at the cash register and self-checkout kiosks.

 Using technology to distill the data

Conversion rates can drop during peak hours due to long lines at the register or because there aren’t enough employees to assist customers. Having the right amount of staff can help you avoid that—and that’s why technology can be your best friend. The good news is you  have plenty of choices:

  • Point of sales (POS) systems do a lot more than accept your customer’s payment. They also track not only every transaction, but also the type of transaction. Use it to track and analyze busy and slow times and get information to guide your stocking needs.
  • Video cameras are seeing a big uptick at grocery stores. While years ago they were primarily used for security reasons, grocery store owners and operators can now use them to track their customers, particularly to see how they interact with their stores (do they stop at certain displays, is the flow easy and fast or are customers having a hard time finding items?). And it’s an easy way to see how busy your store is along with dates and times.
  • Third-party technology can also give you a lot of support—and there are many options to choose from. Here’s an example: Aislelabs, using various methods, picks up a whole bunch of your data and then compares it with some considerations: like weather, business objectives, web analytics, real-time locations and more. Then they can create marketing plans based on what they find, but, well before that, you gain a lot of information about your store’s peak times and staffing needs.

 Planning staff hours around peak times at your grocery store

Once you’ve determined your peak times, you can take a few steps to prepare for it. Avoid workforce shortages by recruiting and training new grocery store workers well in advance of the busy season and add additional employees to the schedule as needed. The last thing you want is a busy supermarket with only one register open—it’s a perfect recipe for a poor customer experience. So, having the right teams in place at the right time can go a long way toward optimizing your systems and processes, and, most importantly, reducing customer wait times.

Beyond analyzing the data to uncover your store's peak times and scheduling adequate staff coverage, you'll also want to create contingency plans for when employees are out on sick leave. Think about how your store can offer a seamless customer experience even when you're understaffed. This can mean sacrificing a few internal procedures or maintenance activities in the short term to keep wait times to a minimum.

You'll also want to consider how to manage extra staff during lulls in grocery store traffic. Have some activities lined up so that store employees can keep busy and productive in ways that support your business when it’s slow, like disinfecting surfaces, restocking shelves and creating stellar displays.

 How to incentivize your grocery store staff

You'll need your staff to step up during peak times; this starts with making sure that they feel like valued team members. Properly training all your employees focusing on teamwork so that everyone is working together, and happily for that matter, will help make sure that your store is running smoothly. That way, your staff doesn't generally feel overworked or under pressure in their day-to-day roles and they'll be much more likely to put in a little more effort when demand is at its highest.

Also, offering an extra incentive during peak times, such as overtime pay, bonuses or rewards for staying later, will give them the added motivation to agree to work extra hours.

 Opt for a flexible workforce

Grocery stores can benefit from a flexible workforce with a mix of part-time, full-time and temporary staff that can quickly adapt to changing schedules on short notice.  Also, consider using swing shifts during peak times. For example, if your store is open from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., you may have one set of employees scheduled for the 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. shifts and another set scheduled for the 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. shifts. Then you can schedule a few swing shift employees to work from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. based on when foot traffic is highest in the store.

Keep in mind that swing shifts overlap the schedules of other employees and don't always stay the same. For example, if your store receives a shipment of products on Wednesdays, some staffers must leave their regular jobs of stocking the shelves in favor of unloading the truck.  In this case, you may need to add one or more swing shift employees on Wednesdays to compensate for this change in workflow.

 Create opportunities for self-service

While some customers appreciate service with a human touch, self-checkout is on the rise in a big way. With the pandemic, the desire for contactless service has accelerated a movement for the use of self-checkout kiosks and research shows that 40 percent of consumers prefer self-service over human contact, a number that is likely to rise. Using self-checkout also helps you redirect labor to other areas of your store to accommodate for peak times. Cashiers who aren’t busy at a cash register, for example, can restocking empty shelves.

Having the right technology is crucial to creating more self-service opportunities. Whether your supermarket has a self-checkout lane, equips its aisles with price checking terminals or arms workers with a tablet, when you deploy technology that takes customer preferences into account, you decrease wait times and create more enjoyable shopper experiences. Technology is also a significant part of the equation when it comes to adequately staffing your grocery store. By putting the right systems and processes in place, you can make your location an enjoyable place to work for employees and a pleasant place to shop for customers.

 Get the assistance you need

It may not always be an exact science for you to track your peak times and staff your store accordingly, but there are plenty of tools at your disposal that can help. And during a time when things are in flux more than other more predictable periods, it’s more important than ever to consider every possibility to avoid long times or empty stores with employees standing around.