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At the recent Microsoft Envision event, attendees got a sneak preview of the Supermarket of the Future. This high-tech, high-touch grocery store was also exhibited last year in Italy at the Milano Expo, billed as the World’s Fair of Food. Understanding the technology involved gives today’s grocers an idea of what to develop going forward so they won’t be left behind operating outdated stores.
The Supermarket of the Future was designed in cooperation with Coop Italia, a network of cooperatives that operate the largest supermarket chain in Italy with 1,444 stores. The layout encourages interaction between grocery products and consumers. Products are displayed on low gondolas arranged like the aisles of a supermarket. When a consumer picks up a package or simply brushes a hand against it, a tilted digital screen at eye-level above the gondola is activated. The screen displays such information as the amount of calories, sugar, salt, fat, and saturated fat in a food product, as well as the carbon footprint, potential allergens, the origin or processing of the food, and even wine pairing recommendations in some cases.
That might seem like too much information, but is it? Millennials – and probably Generation Z right behind – are looking for such details and consider them part of the shopping experience. Perhaps all future supermarkets will be outfitted with such digital screens. It makes comparing products for healthy eating easier than picking up different packages and squinting at the small print on the label.
The concept for the store was developed by IT professional services firms and Microsoft partners Accenture and Avanade. It incorporates sensors developed for Kinect, Microsoft’s motion-sensing camera that began as an Xbox 360 game controller. Intel NUCs provide computing power to the interactive shelves and displays. The data shoppers are most interested in is stored on Azure cloud-based platforms using the Microsoft SQL server relational database management system and content management capabilities.
One benefit for retailers is that the system provides instantly updated information on shelf inventory. This allows a retailer to keep products in a warehouse until items need to be replenished rather than in an overcrowded back room.
Coop Italia plans to use the knowledge gained from this supermarket to deploy new layouts and digital solutions in its stores later this year. How soon will the Supermarket of the Future be coming to America? I don’t know. But I do know that it’s not too early for retailers to investigate the technology involved.