Automation and robots allow new levels of convenience and value in stores.

Automated stores and Ai-powered warehouses aren’t a novelty in the retail sector, but not many stores follow suit and we still see shoppers waiting in lines, shopping assistants swiftly checking if everything is on its place and filling out the shelves. But we live in a fast-paced world and we don’t have much time to spare, especially not in grocery stores when there’s still left to do once we get home. Luckily, there changes ahead, and retail behemoths have already started implementing cutting-edge technologies that transform convenience stores in the supermarkets of the future. And they are all we would want when shopping — extreme levels of convenience. The supermarket of the future will be a combination of the physical and digital world where cutting-edge technology will converge to create a shopping experience that matches ever-growing consumers’ demands.

Cutting-edge retailing: going ‘all in’ when the deck of cards spells automation

The global automated convenience store market is gaining traction and all the great players have recognised the emerging trend. One of the examples is Amazon, a company known for investing in cutting-edge technology and has always been one of the first to roll out a novelty in the retail sector. And investment in automation in the sector is anything but insignificant- in fact, the latest estimates show that the retail automation market was valued at $12.45 billion in 2019 and is expected to reach $24.6 billion by 2025 at a compound annual growth rate of 11.20 per cent over the next couple of years, introducing different business models in the industry. Amazon opened in Seattle, US, opened a fully automated 715 square metre store that offers anything from locally baked goods to ready-made meals to beverages. 

One of the greatest features is that this store is cashierless which means that we can finally say goodbye to long queues. Customers can use Amazon go app and an Amazon account and all they need to do is to swipe a QR code from the app to get to the store and shop. Also, the store is super-intelligent and is equipped with sensors and cameras that make sure that everything is tracked without being intrusive. And nothing is better than a satisfied customer and a store owner. “In retail where margins are tiny, automation removes two main headaches: labor scheduling and shrinkage,” emphasised Rebecca Wettemann, principal at Valoir. Ray Wang, a principal analyst at Constellation Research, noted how the future of the retail industry “relies less on employees but more on technology to automate, personalize, and provide security and safety,” adding that “every retailer is worried about their labor costs, the amount of mishandling at checkout, and is looking at ways to increase revenue per square foot,” which is exactly where cutting-edge technology really shines. Given that retailers lose a lot of money as customers simply abandon their shopping carts, “automated stores potentially increase retail sales,”  observes by  Michel Wedel, PepsiCo Chair in Consumer Science in the University of Maryland.

Robots are entering stores, merging physical and digital commerce

Walmart, another retail giant, has implemented an automated system that’s providing a more efficient order picking process. With e-commerce on the rise, with more people ordering goods online, the system uses autonomous cars to pick up items and deliver them to a workstation.  “By assembling and delivering orders to associates, Alphabot is streamlining the order process, allowing associates to do their jobs with greater speed and efficiency,” explains Brian Roth, Walmart’s senior manager of pickup automation and digital operations. “Ultimately, this will lower dispense times, increase accuracy, and improve the entirety of online grocery. And it will help free associates to focus on service and selling, while the technology handles the more mundane, repeatable tasks.”

Walmart is also adding robots to its stores to speed up online delivery fulfilment. Present in 350 stores to date, these six-foot-tall robots are equipped with 15 cameras to help them scan shelves and aisles. One of the best features is that they send real-time alerts to employees. “Our associates immediately understood the opportunity for the new technology to free them up from focusing on tasks that are repeatable, predictable, and manual,” noted John Crecelius, senior vice president of central operations for Walmart US. “It allows them time to focus more on selling merchandise and serving customers, which they tell us have always been the most exciting parts of working in retail.”

The supermarket of the future: the convergence of digital and physical worlds

Although some sceptics might say that futuristic tech-powered supermarket concepts might be nothing more than a fad, and not a trend that could define the retail of the future. Fortunately, shoppers are those who seek shopping experience to be at a much higher level than it is today when they spend precious time in queues. Luckily, advancements in technology can transform brick-and-mortar stores into tech-powered places that would make traditional stores obsolete.  And while online shopping is booming and we see more people turning to e-commerce, physical stores are here to stay. To stay relevant and competitive, brick-and-mortar should start implementing intelligent solutions and provide the same level of convenience,  impeccable service, and wholesome shopping experience. To help retailers match such high demands, teams of researchers and developers are working to make brick-and-mortar stores remain relevant in the future. The supermarket of the future will take the best of digital and physical worlds, creating a more immersive experience for digital-savvy shoppers who are still not ready to abandon the feel of shopping in places where you can touch, smell, and taste fresh produce if you’d like to.