By MELISSA CROCKETT MESKE
After reading a recent article published by Forbes with a headline of “Schnucks: Out-Innovating Amazon, Walmart And Everybody Else In Grocery,” the Illinois Business Journal was intrigued, and catalyzed to learn more about just how Schnuck Markets, Inc. is leading IT innovation in the retail industry’s world.
The Forbes article notes a new partnership Schnucks has developed with Instacart to roll “Caper Carts” into its stores. Caper Carts are essentially “smart carts,” which means they use AI and computer vision to identify items placed in the carts by shoppers, scanning them automatically and thereby allowing shoppers to skip the lanes and check out at the cart.
And for those who shop at their local Schnucks store, you might have already seen the in-aisle robots used to monitor shelf inventory and pricing. You may also be aware of the Electronic Shelf Labels (ESLs) used to further help maximize pricing and inventory management efficiency.
Schnucks has also recently added the ability for customers to apply Rewards when using self-checkouts, also adding the neighborhood store’s sales flyers to your Schnucks mobile app.
So, just how did Schnucks take the lead and “out-innovate” industry giants like Walmart and Amazon?
For starters, they have kept a consistent commitment to optimizing the shoppers’ experience while implementing smart store technology that continues to provide Schnucks with a solid ROI (return on investment).
When asked further how the company’s IT team stays ahead of the competition, working with other departments to maintain their status as an industry leader, Schnucks Vice President of IT Infrastructure & Application Development Dave Steck said, “One of our company’s core values is ‘Try New Things.’ It is on everyone’s review at the end of the year, and we treat it seriously.
“When everyone has the same mission, it’s relatively easy to have cross-departmental alignment. We keep the teams small to incubate and POC (Proof of Concept) or pilot a solution and once that solution has been validated, we bring others in to get full alignment,” he added.
Regarding Schnucks’ innovative technology deployment, Steck explained how both customers and employees reap the benefits. “With the precise location of items being collected by our robots, we are able to provide that location information (down to the aisle side, 4-foot section and shelf) to our customers and teammates within the Schnucks Rewards app.
“As we continue rolling out electronic shelf labels (we are at 58 stores completed to this point), we are enhancing our ability for our customers to find an item. Now, with the electronic shelf labels (ESLs), we can provide not only the location of the item, but we give customers and teammates the ability within the Schnucks Reward App to press a button and flash an LED on the tag to give them a visual queue on the ESL to help them find it quickly,” he added.
Knowing when to deploy these innovations and implementing them in a way that customers find beneficial and comfortable is also top-of-mind. Schnucks has a Data Sciences team, Steck shared, that spends considerable time in the stores understanding where processes can be improved thereby using the company’s own data to help identify areas of opportunities.
“We have an extremely strong Data Sciences team at Schnucks that helps us to understand any of the problems that we are trying to solve and then helps evaluate the value of solutions long before we even attempt to attack them. This can give insights as well into areas where we can improve our position,” said Steck.
“Everything we have done builds on what we have previously put in place. The foundational elements have to be there before we introduce new solutions,” Steck further noted.
“If a proof of concept measures out, we then move forward with a pilot at a handful of select stores. We spend time in the stores talking with teammates and customers to see what is working and where we can improve. It is during these pilots that we make our decision to go forward or not. Obviously, we need to prove out the return on investment during the pilot programs before we move on,” he added.
Schnucks continually builds on an understanding that timing is everything. “We first replaced much of the IT Infrastructure including store networks, store computer room equipment and teammate devices. We then updated older applications used by the store teams for managing product inventories. Those foundational elements then allowed us to do things such as robotics,” said Steck.
Of course, with the implementation of new, leading-edge technologies, there also come challenges. Steck explained that Schnucks is “very planful” in the introduction of technology to its store team members as well as its customers.
“Our pilot programs provide us the opportunity to refine the processes and the technology while keeping our audience manageable,” said Steck. “When it comes to customers, we follow the same approach because our teammates are also our customers. We can release changes to the app or introduce new customer-facing technologies by only allowing teammates the opportunity to test it and provide us feedback.”
For those who are interested in becoming a part of Schnuck Markets and its innovative technology rollouts as they continue “to lead the charge and slay the giants,” Steck noted that the company hosts internships for college students across the company. They also often post opportunities on the company’s LinkedIn account (@schnuck-markets-inc). “And, because we continue to grow, it’s a great time to apply to work with us at schnucks.com/careers and be a part of the excitement,” Steck added.
Schnuck Markets, Inc. was further honored with the 2023 Google Cloud Customer of the Year Award in two categories – Retail Industry and Social Impact.
The official announcement noted that Schnucks received this recognition for its achievements while utilizing the Google Cloud ecosystem, helping customers excel in retail operations and community engagement.
In its application for the Retail Industry award category, Schnucks highlighted its efforts in leveraging insights from Google Cloud’s ecosystem to provide personalized shopping experiences for Schnucks Rewards customers. The development of a robust data and analytics environment was also featured, which enables the region’s leading grocer to increase its competitiveness with national grocery retailers.
“Within the last year, both Forbes and CDO Magazine have recognized Schnucks as a leading data-driven, innovative company,” noted Schnucks Chief Data Officer and Deputy Chief Information Officer Tom Henry. “What we have achieved would not have been possible without Google Cloud. The significant time and cost saved with Google Cloud has accelerated delivery of insights and the execution of our strategic roadmap.”
For the company’s second category of honors, Social Impact, Schnucks highlighted key partnerships with nonprofits who amplify the company’s mission to nourish people’s lives, including Operation Food Search, Pink Ribbon Good, United Way, Urban League and The Salvation Army.
“Schnucks has a decades-long history and commitment to the communities it serves and is proud to partner with nonprofit organizations that are aligned with the company’s community pillars of fighting food insecurity and hunger and developing the workforce,” Schnucks Director of Community Engagement and Customer Care Schron Jackson also noted. “To better serve our communities, we work as a team with our Information Technology teammates to support our community efforts, such as through our ‘Donate Your Schnucks Rewards’ customer program.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE: This story also appears in the October 2023 print edition of the Illinois Business Journal.)