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Exploring the omnichannel transformation in grocery retail

Publicerad: 2022-11-22

On 11 November, Dr. Ebba Eriksson from The Faculty of Engineering at Lund University successfully defended her PhD thesis, in which she explores the omnichannel transformation in grocery retail.

Dr Ebba Eriksson celebrates here successful thesis defence.


Grocery retail is going through a rapid shift. Consumers now expect to be able to shop online or in stores, get orders delivered when and where they want, and preferably as quickly as possible. This development is called omnichannel and means grocery retailers must transform their logistics networks to meet consumers’ evolving expectations and demands. The omnichannel transformation includes, for example, setting up new material handling (MH) nodes to pick online orders and investing in new automated systems. While this might sound straightforward, grocery retailers struggle to succeed with the omnichannel transformation, particularly in living up to consumers’ evolving expectations and becoming profitable. To develop theoretical and practical knowledge on this under-researched topic, this dissertation aimed to explore and understand the MH configurations and logistics capabilities needed in the omnichannel transformation of grocery retail and the dynamic capabilities required to manage such a transformation. In responding to this purpose, this dissertation makes several important contributions for researchers and practitioners who aim to understand how grocery retailers manage the omnichannel transformation and what they are doing to reconfigure MH configurations and logistics capabilities.

The dissertation is based on the results of five articles from three separate but subsequent studies. The first study, a case study–inspired interview project, applied a contingency approach to explore the configurations of four manual online fulfillment centers (OFCs) in omnichannel grocery retail. The study captured key configurations, main challenges, and influential contextual factors. Study two, a multiple case study, focused on sorting in omnichannels. The study increased knowledge of sorting in omnichannels, and by combining empirical data with transvection theory, it also resulted in an artifact for analyzing and designing omnichannel sorting. The third and last study was a multiple case study of three grocery retailers and had a two-fold focus. First, this study moved beyond exploring specific aspects of the MH configurations and logistics capabilities in omnichannel grocery retail (OFC configuration and sorting) and focused on how and why grocery retailers manage the transformation by contextualizing dynamic capabilities. Second, study one revealed that investment in automation is as one key to being competitive in the omnichannel environment. Study three further explored automated online order picking systems and captured key configuration aspects, main performance objectives, and influential contextual factors.
This dissertation contributes to the research by combining the findings from the three studies with literature on omnichannel logistics and MH in grocery retail, warehouse theory, and transvection theory to elaborate knowledge on what and dynamic capabilities to understand how. Moreover, a contingency approach helped investigate why grocery retailers invest in and reconfigure specific MH configurations and logistics capabilities, as well as why some grocery retailers are more successful than others with the omnichannel transformation. As a result, an elaborate and comprehensive framework arose that explains the what, how, and why of omnichannel grocery retail.

The analysis and development of the framework revealed that omnichannel grocery retailers adapt their MH configurations and logistics capabilities to their external context to meet evolving customer expectations and requirements. Hence, the potential configurations and logistics capabilities that grocery retailers develop and invest in are influenced and constrained by the external context. The dynamic capabilities required to manage the omnichannel transformation could be identified by applying dynamic capabilities as a theoretical lens. The findings revealed that the identified dynamic capabilities enabling the transformation reside to a large extent on organization-level, both corporate and logistics.

Text: Ebba Eriksson PhD

More information

Ebba's thesis is available in full via Lund University's research portal.

Read more about Ebba's research.