Technology is ever-changing. It’s already changed the way we shop for groceries–and guess what? We haven’t seen the half of it yet! Here are ten futuristic store features soon to be rolled out in a supermarket near you.
10. Smart Shelves
According to Newsweek, Kroger revealed earlier this year at the National Retail Federation’s Big Show that it will be rolling out digital smart shelves in 200 stores in the U.S. by the end of 2018. The shelves instantly update prices, as well as help customers find an item they’re looking for by highlighting it on the shelf. So, how exactly do the shelves know what you’re looking for? Bluetooth technology in the shelves interacts with the shopping list in your smartphone. The technology is part of Kroger EDGE, a cloud-based solution that relies on Microsoft Azure for storing and processing customer data. EDGE stands for Enhanced Display for Grocery Environment.
9. Self-Driving Shopping Carts
Also introduced at the National Retail Federation’s Big Show was a self-driving shopping cart named “Dash.” The shopping cart is made by Five Elements Robotics, a New Jersey-based company that designs robots for both businesses and consumers. Here are some of Dash’s key features:
-Leads customers to their items past featured displays
-Collects data on customers’ buying habits
-Provides targeted ads
-Customers pay at the cart
-Follows customers to their car
-Returns itself to the store and the docking station
8. Robot Assistants
Walmart will soon start using robot assistants to fill online grocery orders. This cutting edge automation is the result of a collaboration with startup Alert Innovation and has been dubbed “Alphabot.”
According to Mark Ibbotson, Executive Vice President of Central Operations, Walmart U.S., the robots will retrieve ordered items from a warehouse and deliver them to a Walmart associate who will then assemble and deliver the orders. “The vast majority of grocery products we offer in-store will be fulfilled through this system, though our personal shoppers will still handpick produce and other fresh items,” Ibbotson said in a news release.
“We plan to have Alphabot online and running by the end of the year,” he added.
FYI, Kroger announced a similar program in May. It has partnered with UK-based online supermarket Ocada to build 20 robot-powered warehouses in the U.S. Ocada currently uses robots to fill online grocery orders.
7. Drive-Through Stores
Amazon opened its first drive-through store last year. Customers place an order online, drive to an AmazonFresh Pickup building, and wait for an employee to bring out their groceries and load them into the trunk. Or, customers can walk inside and pick up their order in the lobby. NOTE: You must be an Amazon Prime member to shop AmazonFresh Pickup.
Russian inventor Semenov Dahir Kurmanbievich also likes the idea of drive-through supermarkets. He filed a patent application a couple of years ago for drive-through supermarkets that would work something like this: The customer drives up to an available station and selects the grocery items they want from vertically rotating shelves, all while remaining in their car, mind you. The groceries are then placed onto a conveyor belt and the customer drives a few feet away to begin the checkout process.
6. In-Store Cooking and Dining
Hema Xiansheng, a Chinese supermarket chain owned by e-commerce giant Alibaba, has quite an extensive prepared-foods section. There’s a 100-seat food court where many workers from nearby office buildings drop by for a bite to eat on their lunch break. There’s also a Cantonese counter that sells roast duck and pork. Also, customers can also pick out fresh, live seafood right there in the store and send it to the kitchen to be cooked in several different styles. According to Harrison Jacobs, Business Insider’s international correspondent, it takes about 20 minutes for the seafood to be cooked.
5. High-Tech Payment Options
At Hema, customers can use facial recognition to pay for their groceries. For extra security, customers put in their phone number after their face is scanned.
Alibaba partnered with KFC last year to launch a facial recognition payment option for the restaurant’s customers. Here’s how it works: After placing their order, the customer smiles into a 3-D camera, which scans his or her face to verify their identity. The “smile to pay” service is used in conjunction with the Alipay app, Alibaba’s mobile-payments provider. A phone number verification option is also available for a bit of added security.
The service was launched at KFC’s Hangzhou, China location.
4. Cashierless Stores
What if you could walk into a grocery store, pick up what you want, and walk out without having to make a payment with a cashier? Yes, it sounds like shoplifting, but it’s actually the idea behind cashierless stores. Walmart played with the idea by incorporating self-checkout registers. But Kroger and Amazon took it one step further.
Kroger rolled out its “Scan, Bag, Go” feature at one of its Richmond-based stores just a few months ago. To take advantage of this feature, customers can use a handheld scanner or a mobile app to scan prices and bag the items as they shop. When it’s time to check out, customers simply point the scanner to a bar code on self-checkout registers and make a payment. Customers using the mobile app can pay at the self-checkout register or through the app. “They will actually pay on their phone and they receive a confirmation number that they give to the self-checkout attendant as they are leaving,” Kyle Russell, manager for Scan, Bag, Go for Kroger’s Mid-Atlantic division, said in a Richmond Times-Dispatch article.
Meanwhile, internet giant Amazon recently opened Amazon Go, a chain of cashierless grocery stores. When customers arrive at the store, they must scan the Amazon Go app on their smartphone to “register.” This alerts Amazon to their presence and gives them entry to the store. From there, they shop for the items they need and exit the store without having to go to a cash register. Cameras track all the items they pick up, and their Amazon account is charged once they walk out.
3. Shop Using Mobile Apps
What do Amazon Go, Kroger’s “Scan, Bag, Go” technology, and Hema Xiansheng all have in common? Their customers can shop and pay for groceries using a mobile app. Hema is especially adamant about getting shoppers to use the app. First off, in order to shop there you have to download the app. And rather than having cashiers ring you up, the stores have several kiosks where customers can pay with Alipay. If you want to pay with cash, you have to go to an in-store service center. “Hema and Alibaba really want people to stay in the app,” Jacobs said in a Business Insider article.
2. Ultra Fresh Food
A major selling point for Hema is its ultra-fresh meats, fruits and vegetables. In fact, the name Hema Xiansheng means “boxed or packaged freshness and liveliness.” Consequently, Hema has testing stations where customers can taste the freshness of the produce right there in the store. It also has a live-seafood section with several rows of fish, oysters, shrimp, lobster, scallops, and prawns.
Fresh food is very important in China–but not for the reason you may think. It’s all about the taste, texture, color and smell of the foods, not about healthy eating. According to EthnoMed.org, fresh food is a crucial component of good Chinese cooking.
1. Fast and Convenient Service
Another feature of Amazon Go stores is the ready-to-eat meals. These include salads, sandwiches and wraps. Right next to the ready-to-eat meals are cold drinks. And, next to the cold drinks are snacks like cookies and chips. “We really focused on fast, convenient,” Gianna Puerini, vice president of Amazon Go, told CNET. “Grab a quick lunch, grab something to take home for dinner, perhaps a quick drink or a snack.”
Hema also offers fast, convenient grocery shopping. If you choose to shop online rather than in-store, the entire process probably won’t take any longer than 30 minutes, according to Jacobs. That’s “10 minutes to pick the items, 10 minutes [for employees] to sort them in the back, and 10 minutes for delivery,” he said in a Business Insider article. Delivery is free. Or, if you prefer, you can pick up your order at a nearby store location.
So, there you have it. The future of grocery stores in a nutshell. Thanks for reading, and happy shopping!