Grocery work shifting amid increasing automation, online sales, report finds | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

Current Conditions


Grocery work shifting amid increasing automation, online sales, report finds

An essential worker gathers shopping carts in a grocery store parking lot in Toronto on Wednesday, March 17, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
May 26, 2021 - 1:00 AM

A sweeping new report on the state of Ontario's grocery industry paints a picture of a sector where jobs are rapidly changing as retailers dive deeper into e-commerce and automation gains speed.

With online grocery orders and delivery accelerated by the pandemic, the hiring of warehouse, logistics and order fulfilment workers or "personal shoppers" has started to outpace more traditional supermarket jobs, the report says.

Concerns have also emerged over the possible disruptive impact of automation — changes that could have a lasting impact on the future of food retail work, according to the report.

The report released Wednesday by the Brookfield Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, an independent economic policy institute based at Ryerson University, highlights changes in e-commerce and automation that are shaping the grocery industry across the country.

"COVID-19 restrictions and risks have dramatically accelerated Canadian demand for online grocery shopping," the report said, noting that e-commerce grocery sales have increased 700 per cent since the start of the pandemic.

Rather than a predicted decline in jobs, the 43-page report found that the rise of automation and online shopping is instead shifting the nature of grocery retail work.

Unlike traditional grocery jobs like cashiers, clerks and in-store shelf and produce stockers, which tend to focus on customer service, the report found new e-commerce jobs involve fulfilling online orders, packing groceries, preparing food and delivering orders.

While many of these positions remain in stores, they are also increasingly located at distribution centres and so-called dark stores, which operate exclusively to fulfil online orders.

"What we can expect is for the nature of jobs and the demand for different skills to shift," said Kimberly Bowman, senior projects manager with the Brookfield Institute and one of the report's authors.

Workers in the front end of supermarkets are expected to have good communication and customer service skills, for example, whereas warehouse workers are focused on more independent tasks such as packing orders, she said. Personal shoppers who fulfil click-and-collect orders have a hybrid role, Bowman added.

While some jobs will indeed disappear or shrink, she said many others will change and new jobs will be created.

"We didn't find evidence that there was going to be a significant contraction in demand for workers," Bowman said. "We may see some job reductions, like cashiers being replaced by self-checkouts, but we also see other jobs emerge."

While the use of automated checkout kiosks is expanding and online grocery shopping is increasingly popular, an employee-free supermarket isn't likely any time soon, according to the report.

"Despite the public debate about automation potentially disrupting employment for food retail workers, employers are hiring and the pandemic has only increased the need for these positions," the report said.

Bowman added that human staff are still needed.

"The customer service component and the human component can actually be a really strong differentiator, especially for premium brands," she said.

But that doesn't mean the work available in stores isn't also changing.

The report, entitled Shakeup in Aisle 21: Disruption, Change and Opportunity in Ontario's Grocery Sector, said grocery retail jobs are increasingly becoming part-time and weekend work.

A generation ago, Canadians shopped for food on weekdays and Saturdays, the report said. But now the busiest shopping day is Sunday, with the most popular weekday shopping hours between 4 p.m. and 7 p.m., according to the report.

Although cashier and clerk roles are increasing, the report said there was 15 per cent drop in full-time positions from 2006 to 2016.

Indeed, one food retail worker told researchers that while grocery stores used to hire full-time employees, "it doesn't happen like that anymore. Nobody gets hired full time."

Meanwhile, grocery work is low-paid at point of entry, the report said, with cashiers and clerks earning a median wage of $14.25 in Ontario.

Another food retail worker told researchers that with average rents of $2,000 a month for a one-bedroom apartment in the Toronto area, many people worked two or three jobs to stay afloat.

Yet despite low wages, Bowman said that doesn't mean grocery workers are low-skilled.

"Low wage does not equal low skill," she said, noting that more than half the grocery store workers the researchers spoke with for the report had some post-secondary training.

Bowman said food retail requires not just customer service and communications skills but also problem-solving and other valuable skills.

"Customer service remains in high demand," the report said. "Given challenges associated with pay and job quality, some of these workers may wish to investigate pathways into other occupations."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 26, 2021.

News from © The Canadian Press, 2021
The Canadian Press

  • Popular penticton News
  • Okanagan Lake nearing its lowest level in at least 20 years
    Okanagan Lake is now only about one centimetre higher than it was at this time in 2003 – which was one of the driest years on record. As of July 26, it sat at 341.87 metres above sea l
  • Kamloops woman comes face-to-face with thief in her home
    When Bev Rogers came home from a night shift at the hospital and found a bike mysteriously laying on her front yard on Kamloops' North Shore on Wednesday morning, she was surprised. What was m
  • Young woman fends off attacker in Kamloops
    Kamloops RCMP responded to a North Shore volleyball court after hearing a young woman scream. On July 28, around 10:20 p.m., police found the youth uninjured after she fought off an attacker
  • Foreign student drowns in Shuswap lake
    A 27-year-old foreign exchange student has drowned in the Shuswap's White Lake. On July 28, the Salmon Arm RCMP, White Lake Fire Department and Shuswap Search and Rescue responded to a r
  • Owner of derelict Kelowna house surprised by city demolition order
    The owner of a derelict home in Rutland seems to have been taken off guard by Kelowna city council's order to tear the building down earlier this week. “He (Janusz Grelecki) called
View Site in: Desktop | Mobile