Nov 07, 2019

Does the gig economy have a future in grocery stores?

Earlier this year, e-commerce provider Shipt issued an invitation to its contract workers: Come to headquarters in Birmingham, Alabama, meet our executives and talk about your jobs.

One thousand individuals paid their way to the southern city in April and were treated to a day and a half of development, including a discussion with company leaders, a tour of headquarters, updates on the business and a presentation showing how their feedback had impacted the company. One lucky worker even won a car.

Expanding to other countries creates a new revenue stream for restaurants, but they have to find the right partner, market and menu items to be successful.

“To our knowledge, this was the first gathering of gig economy workers for the platform they work on,” Kelly Caruso, a Target veteran who became CEO of Shipt earlier this year, said during a presentation at the Groceryshop conference in September.

While the company positioned the get-together as a warm team-building exercise, it also underscores the importance of keeping workers happy and loyal in an on-demand labor industry notorious for high turnover.

Gig labor has become inextricably linked to grocers’ e-commerce efforts, with hundreds of thousands of workers roaming stores selecting products, assembling orders and delivering them to consumers’ homes. And it’s set to fill even more jobs in the years ahead, both within that channel and in store-level tasks like stocking and merchandising, experts say.

But as it grows, gig labor faces pointed questions about its viability within grocery, along with broader questions regarding the sustainability of the model.

While the exact future of gig work remains a question mark, the impact of employers like Instacart and DoorDash on grocer’s own labor management processes is clear, said Will Eadie, global vice president of sales and alliances with workforce technology company WorkJam.

Eadie, whose firm works with Australian grocer Woolworths along with Shell, Ulta Beauty and Avis, said retailers have the flexibility to engage in the sort of “open shift management” on-demand companies implement. Grocers can cross-train employees across stores and distribution centers. If a store needs a shelf stocker at a moment’s notice, Eadie said, they may be able to broadcast the opportunity and get a distribution worker who wants extra hours to fill in.

“Retailers don’t realize that within their four walls, they have a gig economy,” he told Grocery Dive.

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