Grocers have long been the laggards in the retail technology game. That’s understandable, given the channel’s longtime traditional nature, narrow margins and reluctance to make huge investments in risky areas.
Take a look at what’s happened over the past year, however, and you’ll see that grocers have made strides and are laying the foundations for further technological advances in the coming year. This year alone saw several tremendous innovations adopted including:
Amazon Go debuted in Seattle at the start of the year and has since expanded to Chicago and San Francisco, with 3,000 locations planned to open over the next few years. The chain uses “just walk out” technology to automatically detect when products are removed from, or placed back on, shelves. Shoppers scan and pay for items via a dedicated app and receive a digital receipt afterward. In Canada, Loblaw is testing shop and scan through its PC Express mobile app. Though shoppers are still required to pay at checkout, the grocer hopes to add payment capability to the app in the future so users can simply scan their groceries and pay, all from their phone, without any lineups.
Midwestern grocer Schnuck Markets expanded to at least 15 locations its in-store autonomous-robot pilot in which Tally, an innovation from Simbe Robotics, traverses the store to detect out-of-stocks, pricing errors and even hazards. This frees up time for in-store associates to handle more important, customer-facing tasks.
The Albertsons Cos. revealed a plan to automate and save e-commerce fulfillment costs by embracing robotics and artificial intelligence (AI). The grocer is partnering with Takeoff Technologies to help simplify the online grocery shopping experience through a “hyperlocal” automated fulfillment centre, which also helps lower order-assembly and last-mile costs. This follows similar announcements from Kroger Co. and Walmart. (Sobeys, in partnership with Ocado, is building an automated fulfillment centre in the Greater Toronto Area to build out its delivery service. It is expected to be up and running in 2020.)
AUTONOMOUS DELIVERY VEHICLES
Kroger began piloting a grocery delivery program that uses autonomous vehicles to fulfill online orders, teaming with autonomous-vehicle provider Nuro to make the convenience of grocery delivery accessible and affordable for customers everywhere. Through the partnership, which began in Scottsdale, Ariz., customers using Kroger’s ClickList grocery e-commerce system and Nuro’s mobile app place same-day delivery orders, which are fulfilled by the latter’s fleet of on-road autonomous vehicles. Walmart is also entering the autonomous delivery space through a partnership with Ford.
This list doesn’t include what grocers have been doing in terms of developing, employing or expanding mobile-centric shopping experiences; voice ordering; shoppable recipes; boosted searches for CPG partners; and more. Simply put, in 2018, there was far more news in the field of grocery technology than ever before. That means there will likely be even more news in 2019.
A version of this article appeared at ProgressiveGrocer.com.