And as omnichannel demand has boomed against the backdrop of a tightening labor market, many retailers are contemplating investments in machine learning and AI to address those concerns.  According to McKinsey, using AI-enabled supply chain management allowed early adopters of that tech to improve logistics costs by 15%, inventory levels by 35%, and service levels by 65%.

“The pandemic provided retailers with a testing ground for automation technologies, determining their ability to manage distribution and warehouse fulfillment efficiently,” the Colliers report notes. “Despite initial fears, implementing automation is expected to create more new jobs than it replaces by 2025. This is good news for per diem employees, as it will require employers to retrain and upskill staff to ensure they are properly equipped for the future of work.”

Grocers are already betting big on automation, as evidenced by Albertsons’ partnership with Takeoff Technologies to create micro-fulfillment centers to specifically post online orders. Stop & Shop, Meijer and Target are all also following suit with plans to begin building their own MFCs to increase digital reach.

Such tools will be critical for grocery chains to meet still-burgeoning demand for online orders and deliveries quickly and efficiently, according to JLL.

“Micro-fulfillment centers (also known as MFCs) aren’t new, but they are a growing solution for many grocers,” the report notes. “MFCs provide flexibility as they are much smaller in size than a typical industrial-grade fulfillment center. They can be put into dark stores, adjacent to existing stores, or located centrally to multiple stores as a hub-and-spoke model.”