Today marks a seismic shift in technological integration into the supermarket experience with the opening of the first Amazon Go store to the public. After over a year of testing the technology with an employee store, the public will now be able to experience “Just Walk Out” shopping. While chains have expanded self-checkout lanes, Amazon Go stores are checking you out as you shop. The selection is limited and with plans to eventually add stores near dense populations of office workers, the items are limited. They are likely to compete with convenience stores and even limited service restaurants more than large supermarkets. No expansion plans have been announced, but expect to see more Amazon Go stores as they expand their retail dominance.

Another major retailer announced filing for a new patent on 3D imaging for a service they think will get over a major hurdle for online purchasing. Shoppers would be able to see the actual fresh items they will be receiving while shopping remotely. The current description is rather clunky. The customer selects an item from a stock photo, then a sales associate takes a photo of the item on the shelf that the online shopper then approves or asks to see another. Once the fresh item is approved, an edible watermark is added to the item to assure it is the same one when it is shipped or picked up. There is potential for this process to be somewhat automated, but they will need to be careful with introducing this system. While the idea is good, the execution as currently described seems to fail two pillars for successful retail technology: improving convenience and the customer experience.

Also last week, Kroger announced it will be introducing new shelving technology to 200 stores called Kroger Edge. Shelves will display not only pricing, but nutritional information, video ads and coupons. They also see it eventually communicating with customers’ smart phones to help them find items on their list and even products that meet their dietary needs or restrictions. As with Amazon Go, the technology was first tested with employees. It seems like a big investment for an industry already operating on razor thin margins, but it does hit on the convenience and customer experience pillars.

As ecommerce grows, grocery retail may be the final front to fight for a brick and mortar presence. If they do die, they will need to die on the hill of convenience and customer experience. These are the two prime factors driving consumers online. For those that dread shopping or simply don’t have the time, they may be customers lost forever. We could see store formats shrinking to focus on service departments or simply serving as mini DCs to service the local area.

Here at the Winter Fancy Food Show, new, emerging and established brands are all wondering where the future lies, and how in a world of automation we don’t lose the human touch. Share this post with #WFFS and let us know what technology you expect to change the way we shop and eat.

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