For more than a decade, RIS has been presenting these prestigious awards to retail CIOs who have demonstrated an innovative use of technology that has moved their retail organization forward.
Every year we ask you, our valued readers, to nominate a deserving CIO for consideration. Our panel of judges then examines the entries and votes for the retail executives they believe have had the greatest impact on their organizations and the retail industry at large.
In a year where disruption has become the norm, RIS was presented with an impressive list of nominees, each one exemplifying how technology can take challenges and spin them into innovation and modernization in the retail industry. While all our nominees exemplify excellence, our panel of judges chose a clear winner this year. Congratulations to the CIO of the Year from all of us at RIS.
The past few years have ushered in new customer experience demands, and within the retail industry, grocery has been at the forefront of change. Greg Zeh led Weis Markets through a significant transition, pressing for results, while respecting every player in the organization.
The Mid-Atlantic food retailer operates nearly 200 stores in seven states (PA, MD, NY, NJ, WV, DE, and VA). Three years ago, Weis decided to upgrade its self-checkout systems throughout its store base. The auspicious decision was reinforced at the onset of COVID when an increasing number of customers switched from wanting to use full-service lanes to self-checkout. The goal was to enhance the customer experience with a self-checkout system that could efficiently handle both small and large orders.
Senior Vice President,
Chief Information Officer
Weis Markets Inc.
Of course, meeting the needs of consumers during a pandemic presents unique challenges. Weis had to comply with the local COVID regulations during most of 2020. “Our IT Field Service team had to adjust and adapt to these evolving regulations as they moved through our seven-state market area,” Zeh explains. The retailer also had to protect its associates from the pandemic and adjust as needed when team members tested positive or had to quarantine. “Lastly, during the peak of the pandemic, we removed the weighted security to minimize interaction between store associates and customers,” he notes.
Despite the challenges faced, the project team was able to pivot and deploy the new solution across Weis’ retail locations. As a result of the dual-use program, Weis’ dual-use lane and traditional self-checkout utilization metrics increased from 43.1% to 63.9% of its in-store transactions, which translates to half of sales. In some stores, 85% of transactions go through some form of self-checkout. Weis is on track to complete the remainder of the work prior to the 2022 holiday season.
In addition to the dual-use checkout transformation, customers and associates told the retailer it needed to offer self-checkout in its deli departments, so Weis installed single unit self-checkouts in the deli food service areas. This transformation helps customers quickly get in and out, particularly during peak periods like the lunch rush. The new system also allows store associates to increase their focus on customer experience, production, and replenishment — a big win for both Weis’ customers and associates.
RIS is pleased to announce the winner of our 11th annual CIO of the Year awards, Greg Zeh of Weis Markets.
This year’s panel of esteemed judges included: Al Lettera, VP of Enterprise Applications Development and Operations, Tractor Supply Company; Adam Fox, Chief Information Officer, Vera Bradley, Inc.; Jordan K. Speer, Research Manager, Sourcing, Fulfillment, and Sustainability, Retail Global Supply Chain, IDC; Derek Gaskins, Chief Marketing Officer, Yesway; Joe Skorupa, Editor at Large, RIS News; Tim Denman, Editor in Chief, RIS News; Jamie Grill-Goodman, Sr. Editor, RIS News; and Liz Dominguez, Managing Editor, RIS News and Consumer Goods Technology.
“While it is easier looking back than it was during the deployment, we were successful in delivering the right solution at the right time for our customers and associates.”
“This allowed us to open with light front-end staffing during the quiet periods while ramping up to full-service during peak periods. These lanes also helped us in a tight labor market and during times when we were shorthanded for pandemic-related reasons.”
“We needed to offer customers who wanted to use self-checkout with large orders, a better, more user-friendly option,” Zeh explains. “It also had to be more durable and easier to maintain than our previous system.”
To meet this new customer experience requirement, Weis started installing dual-use lanes in its stores, initially two per store. With dual-use lanes, the grocer can transition from a manned lane to a full self-checkout experience in a matter of minutes.
As Weis transitioned to a new self-checkout technology, the retailer also upgraded its retail mobility solution for stores with both new hardware and software solutions. Under chairman and CEO Jonathan Weis, the company has made record technology investments to complement its ongoing store development program, which includes remodels and new stores, Zeh notes.
“We knew our new self-checkouts required remodeling across the front end to support retail associates’ ability to manage the increased number of dual-use lanes. We identified this need after testing various options (e.g., flow through, bullpen) and developing solutions for each store. This gave us a roadmap for each store for our IT Field Service and Development teams to use.
“During this time, we were also replacing our computer-generated ordering (CGO) system. As with our dual-use lanes, this new system required us to transition to a new mobile device, along with the new software solutions that supported store operations.”
In terms of store replenishment, this was a big adjustment for Weis’ store associates. Now they were letting the CGO solution write the order with minimal store interaction.
“This allowed our stores to focus on shelf replenishment during a chaotic time,” Zeh explains. “The new ordering system helped us during the early stages of the pandemic when we saw increased customer counts based on our in-stock position, which we worked to maintain during the pandemic and continue to focus on as our supply chains slowly return to pre-pandemic levels.”
During the mobile deployment, Weis also transitioned from a single-order picking solution to a multi-order picking solution that allowed associates to traverse the store more efficiently, and increased Weis’ ability to service online orders. “This change allowed us to meet customer demand and added the capability for real-time communication with the customer on substitutions and order completion,” Zeh says.
CIO of the YEar
Zeh joined Weis Markets as vice president and CIO in 2016 and was promoted to senior vice president and CIO in 2021. While he continues to oversee the day-to-day activities of Weis’ information technology team, the promotion added new responsibilities for enterprise data and analytics and working cross-functionally with senior leadership on the development and execution of key strategic initiatives. Earlier in his career, Zeh worked in information technology and finance positions at food retail and service industry companies including Price Chopper/Market 32 and Mazzone Management Group, LTD.
How has the CIO role in the industry evolved over your career?
The CIO role has evolved from managing systems to becoming a strategic advisor to senior management and our operators. Business enablement is also a crucial part of the job. This business enablement has positioned the CIO as a core member of the leadership team. Often, they are not just providing technical knowledge, but also are providing business insights for critical decision making and/or building new business models that embrace technology. Lastly, I have seen the role evolve as a change agent, driving digital transformations within the business. The people I work with particularly Jonathan Weis and Kurt Schertle, our chief operating officer, make this possible.
What would you like to accomplish next in your career?
Talent development remains a big challenge. We are constantly looking at the talent pipeline so that we can provide opportunities to associates who are looking to develop and advance.
Until recently, geography was a limiting factor in talent development, but the pandemic changed that. We have moved from a local market to global market in terms of available talent. From culture retention to remote management, our managers are transitioning to a new way of working, and in turn, we are looking at different models for talent retention and acquisition.
IT has always been one area of the business that could best support remote work. It also gives us the opportunity for us to help lead the business in change management and transition to new operating models. The world has changed, and we continue to evolve with it. Talent management is crucial to our long-term success.
What are you most optimistic about for 2022?
I am encouraged by our long-term commitment to investing in our growth. This has been one of Jonathan Weis’s key focus areas over the past 10 years. Today, our IT team is working with leadership to develop our strategy and align roles to support organizational growth and help drive profitable sales.
This commitment is evident in our robust store development program – new stores and fuel centers, remodels and hundreds of smaller projects that help improve customer experience. And it extends to the technology arena. We’ve started several projects that will help us upgrade our business’s agility and scalability which will continue to improve the efficiencies of core business operations.
We also have additional longer-term initiatives in the pipeline that will support our strategy going forward. It’s a carefully drawn roadmap for our future that we believe will help us thrive and grow.