As shopping has migrated to the web, how has this trend affected grocery shopping? These days, it’s easy enough to place an order online to a service that does the shopping for you instead of going to the grocery store. Still, it’s difficult to convey the thump on the bottom of a watermelon through a laptop. Shopping for food for many consumers has long necessitated an in-person experience.
The last year has been transformative in grocery retail. If anything, it’s an indication of what is to come.
Looking ahead, new patents in online retail advancements, paired with speculations on partnerships to come, push the future of grocery in a new direction.
Current changes in the grocery industry
Amazon and Whole Foods
Last summer, Amazon moved to acquire Whole Foods in for $13.7 billion. A slew of changes to the grocery giant were introduced. Amazon instantly had a physical presence in nearly 500 stores. The trusted and best-selling Whole Foods products became available to Amazon customers online. Today, Amazon offers Prime members free same-day shipping and one-day shipping on over 10,000 items, including Whole Foods products.
Amazon also pushed the limits of traditional grocery shopping by recently opening their first check-out free grocery store, Amazon Go. The 1,800 square foot retail space in Seattle is the first of its kind, a shopping experience with no lines and no checkout. New technologies in computer vision and sensor fusion, combined with a smart phone app developed for the shop, allow customers to effortlessly walk in and walk out of the store. Grocery shopping no longer necessitates any traditional transaction. Could this potentially be the future of select Whole Foods stores?
On the Horizon
Walmart and 3D Imaging
The growth of Amazon pits it firmly against one of its main competitors, Walmart. Walmart has already had an edge on Amazon in the grocery industry for some time, and now it is looking to compete more aggressively with Amazon in online grocery shopping. Walmart recently applied for a 3D image patent for online grocery. The “Fresh Online Experience” would use 3D scanning to allow customers to easily preview their food purchases. Think of the technology as virtually-assisted shopping. It would give Walmart customers the ability to choose the exact grocery items that will be put into their orders. After a customer places an order, a store associate uses a 3D scanner to scan items they pull from Walmart’s inventory, then the customer approves or rejects the selection. This could transform the customer’s needs to buy fresh produce in-store only.
Alibaba and Kroger
Who could challenge the mega-giants of Amazon/Whole Foods and Walmart in the grocery game? Many analysts speculate a potential partnership between top China online retailer, Alibaba, and the United States’ largest grocery chain, Kroger. Alibaba has been successfully expanding in the Asia markets but wants to enter the U.S. market. It’s clear that it will have trouble doing so on its own. And as Kroger struggled last year, it is evident that Alibaba’s capital and technology could help the supermarket chain in a massive makeover. While it is not entirely clear whether or not this partnership is in the making, it could assist both companies in their respective growth in both brick-and-mortar and online presence.
The Future of Grocery
What can we expect from the future of grocery retail, supermarkets and online food sellers? One of the biggest trends seems to be the integration of real-world shopping and technology. In some ways, this is moving grocery online. New approaches to shopping, such as the Walmart patent on 3D imaging of produce, could be a game changer and help us to virtually thump that watermelon after all. Stores like Amazon Go might be more successful. Using technology to eliminate the worst parts of grocery shopping could be a game-changer. After all, who really enjoys waiting in line and the point-of-sale transaction with the cashier? A a successful partnership between the largest supermarket chain. One of the largest online retailers could be a world-changing partnership much larger than the likes of the Amazon and Whole Foods deal.
Needless to say, this kind of growth by the mega grocery giants could easily push the smaller chains by the wayside. Maybe it could lead to a renaissance of shopping at farmer’s markets where the customer knows his or her farmer? Perhaps the impact of technology of grocery shopping could be too much? Will customers feel violated by the “Big Brother-ness” of computer vision and sensor fusion tracking the ingredients to their Monday night Chicken Tikka Masala? It is difficult to say just how the general public will respond to this new digital age of grocery. It’s impossible to ignore that big change is on the horizon.