When shoppers pass product displays in a grocery store, they usually don’t think they’re seeing the result of a high-tech operation. But companies in the grocery industry rely heavily on engineering and software development teams to attract customers, manage operations, and continue to drive innovation within the grocery industry.
Take, for example, grocery chain Kroger, which owns 84.51, a data insights company that uses retail data to provide insights into the company about customer habits. other companies, like the Albertsonsoperate tech divisions in development hubs like San Francisco to attract tech workers who might not otherwise imagine themselves in the industry.
Software development skills are needed in virtually every aspect of business, said Christina Garcia, senior vice president of engineering at 84.51.
“We work on scientific and technical solutions for merchandising, supply chain, coupons, personalization, loyalty – there is not an area of the business that is not supported in one way or another. another by a team of engineers,” Garcia said.
What does working as a developer in the grocery industry look like?
Software developers working in the grocery industry maintain their companies’ cloud infrastructure, research product and consumer information from point-of-sale transactions, and provide tools to employees working in stores and distribution centers.
Even something as common as the ability for customers to order items online and pick them up in-store, known as in-store fulfillment, requires technical support. What was previously a manual process, with orders printed and distributed to store associates, has been accelerated through digitization efforts by reducing the time it takes from receipt of the order to when it is ready for pick-up, has said Reyner Bacallao. , senior director of software engineering at Walmart’s technology organization, Walmart Global Tech.
Curious about what engineering roles look like in industry? Here are some ways developers can make an impact in the grocery industry.
Data engineering shapes store layouts
Software development teams even influence how items in grocery stores are arranged on shelves and in stores. They create software that helps other employees, like category managers, visualize and optimize shelf spacing.
“There are a lot of solutions out there that don’t seem to involve engineering, but in order for these people to actually get the results they’re looking for, they actually pair up with an app,” Garcia said.
For example, merchandising teams use computer-aided design software to help them visualize store layouts and understand product placement patterns. Data scientists use data insights to offer feedback on how best to optimize shelf space to maximize profits. Engineers also help with inventory management, creating tools that track purchases whether they happen in-store or online, and making sure stores don’t run out of stock.
The data can also give stores insight into the types of products that should be displayed together, which directly affects the customer experience, Garcia said.
“As you notice that pasta is close to sauces, it creates that kind of continuity so that customers can have a better shopping experience.”
“As you notice that pasta is close to sauces, it creates that kind of continuity so customers can have a better shopping experience,” she said.
When berries are in season, for example, data may recommend that stores stock angel food cakes near those fruits. This can be because customers like to buy these items together or as part of a trial to see if bringing these items together will encourage sales of one of the products.
“We can see which products are bought together most often and provide them to merchants,” Garcia said.
Getting information from receipts requires a lot of engineering
At 84.51, a lot of the work revolves around data. Much of the effort goes into creating a data mart, or central data repository, with high-quality data, said David Scroggins, who works there as a lead software developer.
High-quality data is not only useful for internal teams of data scientists and engineers, but also to consumer packaged goods companies whose products line the shelves of stores like Kroger. The information provided by 84.51 on the performance of different products and the buying habits of customers is useful to consumer packaged goods companies, who can use this information to inform how they will conduct their marketing campaigns in the future.
“All of our different solutions, at a very high level, are trying to allow these CPG companies to get a glimpse of what’s happening with their products in Kroger stores, or maybe create a campaign to advertise targeted for a given product,” Scroggins said.
But to achieve this, engineers must first clean the data and put it into a format ready for use by data scientists. The Scroggins team helps with this, taking care of the repetitive tasks and problems that data scientists may encounter before they can glean insights for customers inside and outside the company.
“How do we know the data is inaccurate? How do we know what the person actually bought? »
Getting clean data can be a formidable challenge in itself. A lot of data is created during checkout on Kroger POS systems. All this information, which is also provided to customers in the form of receipts, is recorded by the company and reported via the engineering teams to the data scientists.
But even though part of the checkout process is automated, things can still go wrong and introduce incorrect or incomplete data into the system. Stores are constantly receiving new inventory, which may result in selling items to stores that are not yet in the system. This can lead to inaccurate data at checkout, especially for customers using self-checkouts. And these inaccuracies become challenges for data engineers on the road.
“How do we know the data is inaccurate? How do we know what the person actually bought? said Scroggins. “It doesn’t seem like a lot, but a handful of errors out of 100 purchases really starts to add up when you think in terms of hundreds of millions of items every day.”
Power Acquisitions and Dashboards Software Engineers
Software developers working for food companies use many of the same skills as developers in other industries. Bacallao, senior director of engineering at Walmart Global Tech, said engineers on his team have good front end and back end development skills, as well as the ability to manage data.
There are also teams of engineers responsible for managing cloud infrastructure job, freeing up other software developers who don’t have infrastructure skills to focus on other aspects of their job. Experience with the Java Spring framework is helpful, as well as experience integrating different systems and building microservicesBacallao said.
System integration challenges also arise when companies acquire other grocery chains, Garcia said. Businesses can discover a great digital asset from acquisition and scale it across the business, or simply work to integrate internal systems so customers can enjoy the same experiences and benefits across all stores. , such as the ability to use loyalty programs and coupons.
“It’s 12, 18, 24 month journeys that are really on the engineering side,” Garcia said. “It’s only natural that you need work to marry two different brains. … If we operated as separate units, there wouldn’t be this value of being part of the Kroger brand.
Front-end development skills are just as important. The Bacallao team creates applications for operations engineers, who investigate and resolve technical issues that arise in stores and distribution centers. These applications are built using a front end Reaction frameand give operations managers ways to track their work with easy-to-use dashboards and logging.
Some engineering groups are also exploring how to take a more proactive approach to problem solving. “There’s a lot of development going on in this area with machine learning and trying to identify problems before the problem actually happens,” Bacallao said.
There are many layers to the engineering work that occurs in industry. Many engineers are responsible for supporting other engineering and data teams, which in turn create tools and information for employees working in stores, distribution centers and directly with customers.
“The better you understand the type of concrete action of making a purchase at a grocery store and how it reverberates – the better you understand this, the better you then become at your job.” said Scroggins. “What unites a lot of engineers, or at least the good ones, is this very deep desire to solve problems, and I think the problems that you face in this space are some of the most interesting problems that I have. These are really complex, really difficult issues – and for me, that’s exciting.