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03/30/2022

The Future of Grocery Retailing

Industry experts share their thoughts
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The Future of Grocery Retailing
Gary Hawkins, CEO of Center for Advancing Retail & Technology, anticipates a virtual world where consumers can go grocery shopping.

As Progressive Grocer spoke with industry experts about how technology has evolved over the past century, we also asked them to share their thoughts about the business going forward. Here are some of their ideas:

Ron Bonacci, VP of marketing, advertising and public relations at Weis Markets, based in Sunbury, Pa., is betting big on walk-out technology and the power of artificial-intelligence (AI) computer vision. “All grocery stores in America, except for maybe the small mom-and-pop stores, will have 40, 50 or 60 cameras in their stores in the future,” he predicts. “As a customer walks in the store, the technology will recognize them and then scan the items as they select them. The cameras will probably have facial recognition and will be tied to credit systems. It will take care of the customer and their shopping experience.”

Another likely tech-related feature in supermarkets of the near future will be kiosks — or more likely holograms — that can provide shoppers with more information about an item, including how to prepare it, notes Bonacci.

He’s also enthusiastic about how supermarkets can better serve customers’ health-and-wellness needs. “The grocery industry is going to have to evolve and become more involved in consumers’ health and lifestyles,” he asserts. “For instance, if a person is diabetic, the grocer will help direct them to the items that are better for them. The retailer can work with hospitals in their marketing areas to identify newly diagnosed patients who want this type of assistance.

And using algorithms made possible by AI, we’ll be able to help manage their disease state and suggest products that are better for them, which can help sustain their life or build a better quality of life long-term. We may possibly be able to help people get out of some of these disease states.”

Lisa Chai, partner at ROBO Global Ventures, a venture fund that’s part of Dallas-based ROBO Global, is excited about the potential of new technology that can help solve real-world problems in logistics and the supply chain. One example is in picking and packing technology. “We’re looking at robots that can move backwards and even replicate the human hand in their gripping abilities,” notes Chai.

She also predicts further development in payment systems, even beyond touchless applications. “The average person today wants a more automated and personalized experience,” explains Chai. “You’re starting to see a new generation pushing this change. They don’t want to carry cash around, and they don’t want to be tied to one bank.”

Lastly, since labor challenges seem likely to continue plaguing the industry, Chai expects to see further development in labor systems and robots that can assist in menial tasks in the store and in warehouses. She also believes that software development will become more important as retailers look for more specific solutions that can be employed regardless of existing hardware in their stores.

“Right now, we have a really robust amount of great data, but retailers need better software to analyze that data and customize it by store, by region, and even by online versus in-store sales,” she notes.

Gary Hawkins, CEO of Center for Advancing Retail & Technology (CART), based in Walnut, Calif., envisions a new world of virtual grocery shopping as part of the metaverse. “You’ll put on your virtual-reality headset and enter this virtual world where you can go grocery shopping, go shopping at a mall and meet your friends for coffee,” he explains. “As you’re shopping, you can choose to have an item shipped right to your door. And the day is coming when 3D printing will allow you to print the product you want in the convenience of your own home.”

While it may sound far-fetched, Big Tech companies like Facebook, Google, Apple and Microsoft are already “heavily focused” on the idea of the metaverse, he notes.

Like Chai, Hawkins expects our concept of currency to continue to evolve as well. “The dollar bill we have in our pocket is changing to cryptocurrency,” he says, “and the payment networks that have been around for decades, in which you scan your credit card, are giving way to new blockchain-based networks.” One day, retailers will use these blockchain networks to deliver digital coupons to their customers, he adds.

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