Grocery shelf stocking tool: analysis of productivity and human factors

Corey J. Blackwell, Julia Sarah Wasas, Sean Patrick Flanagan, Bryan A. Norman, Joel Michael Haight

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Purpose – Grocery store tasks provide many opportunities for efficiency and ergonomic improvements. Shelf stocking is one task that has received considerable attention in recent years as grocery stores seek to remain competitive by stocking shelves in an efficient manner in order to satisfy customers. The purpose of this paper is to detail an analysis performed to evaluate the effectiveness of a grocery store shelf stocking tool. This shelf stocking aid is a device designed to improve the accuracy and efficiency of stocking and fronting shelves in a supermarket or a similar retail environment. Design/methodology/approach – To test the claims that the device actually does improve stocking accuracy, efficiency, and ergonomic soundness, an experiment was conducted to compare the processes of stocking shelves and fronting items on shelves with and without the stocking tool. In creating the realistic conditions of a real-world store environment, extensive inquiry about item stocking and fronting procedures was made by visiting stores and discussing the stocking and fronting tasks with industry experts. Tests were performed at varying combinations of shelf heights, shelf fullness, with and without First-In First-Out processing, and with various merchandise sizes and shapes. Findings – The results indicate that the shelf stocking tool significantly reduces shelf stocking and fronting time. The ergonomic merits of the tool were also analyzed. A Rapid Upper Limb Assessment (RULA) was performed to evaluate biomechanical and postural stresses experienced by a shelf stocker as they stock and front store shelves. It appears that the largest contributor to higher-than-expected RULA scores is extensive upper torso bending in the sagittal plane at the L5 S1 disc position. This is exacerbated as the stocker reaches lower shelves and bends forward to reach under the shelf directly above the item being stocked or fronted. Research limitations/implications – Only three tall and five short items were used in testing. More testing is needed to draw conclusions about stacking items. Cumulative fatigue effects were not tested nor were the locations of specific physical discomfort. Testing was not done to examine simultaneously fronting two rows with the shelf stocking tool. Testing was not done to simulate the use of a step stool, including moving and repositioning the step stool for manual restocking and fronting on high shelves. The step stool handling would improve relative performance of the shelf stocking tool because the tool eliminates the need for a step stool. Practical implications – Grocery store shelf stocking associates are at risk of developing cumulative trauma type injuries from awkward posture that they have to use when stocking shelves. With many small items on a shelf that are continually becoming disheveled as customers purchase the items, there are significant inefficiencies in continually arranging and rearranging the items as well as adding new. The analysis of a tool of the type tested here has shown that the use of a simple tool such as the one tested can go a long way to improving both of these elements of the stocking and fronting task. Originality/value – While the shelf stocking tool is not necessarily a remedy for bending, it appears to reduce more pronounced bending than what is required without it. For stocking or fronting upper shelves, it also appears to reduce the extensive reaches (the second most stressful contributor to the high RULA scores). This approach to stocking and fronting shelves has helped to verify the idea that a tool such as this can help to improve not only the speed and efficiency at which the task is accomplished it can also reduce the stress on the back and shoulders during this tedious task.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)554-570
Number of pages17
JournalInternational Journal of Productivity and Performance Management
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 11 2016


  • Ergonomics
  • Grocery shelf stocking
  • Productivity
  • Resource efficiency


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