Shop to the future!

Grocers are blending convenience with smart technology to create a more seamless instore shopping experience that will keep customers coming back.

When Amazon Fresh -- Amazon’s first bricks and mortar grocery store and an evolution of its Amazon Go cashierless convenience stores -- opened in 2020, it offered the leading edge in grocery retailing technology in North America. Designed to blend the online and instore shopping experience, the store creates a seamless and convenient experience for consumers that retailers hope will entice them back to in-person shopping.

With [JK2] Amazon Fresh, shopping starts at home as consumers use the Amazon app to create grocery lists categorized by department and continues in the store when consumers connect to Alexa kiosks to help them locate items, search food facts and access recipes suggestions. Amazon’s Dash Cart uses cameras, sensors and a scale to know what items are placed in it and automatically bills their Amazon account when shoppers exit through the Dash Cart Lane. Amazon Fresh stores lets you scan a QR code to use their Dash Cart smart cart to automatically pay for your items as you exit the store in a cashierless transaction.

Although not all consumers are ready to embrace this sort of smart technology experience, acceptance grew significantly during the pandemic, as even tech-wary shoppers turned to online ordering, delivery and cashless payments. Canadians now expect larger grocers to offer options such as self-checkout, contactless payment, and automated delivery and pickups to make their experience more convenient.

Aisle 24 is Canada’s first cashierless grocery and convenience store. The chain’s locations in Montreal and Toronto are open 24/7 to members who have already downloaded an app and created an account with the company. Members then scan and pay for their items at a self-checkout.

Other in-store technology being testing in Canada include Instacart’s Caper AI powered shopping cart with its own checkout technology, and electronic shelf labels that not only allow operators to make faster price adjustments, but also add value to the instore experience by offering consumers nutritional or promotional information.

Around the world, grocery retailers are exploring a wide range of creative technology that adds value to the instore experience. The COOP Supermarket in Milan, Italy was unveiled at Expo Milano in 2015 as the “supermarket of the future,” and features technology such as digital screen mirrors offering interactive displays on products, robots that sort and pack food, and Xbox Kinect technology that allows customers to point at products to learn more about them.

In fall 2021, Carrefour opened its first cashierless convenience store in Paris, France, using machine-vision powered checkout technology to create a personal digital avatar for each customer entering the store.

The Hema Supermarket in Shanghai, China is part of a chain of stores launched by internet retailer Alibaba that combine online and in-person shopping to create a seamless experience for customers. Consumers use an app to scan barcodes on products for information while shopping, order products that employees will then prepare and pack for delivery, and even choose and order fresh seafood to eat at the in-store restaurant.

As similar concepts appear in the Canadian market, it will be interesting to see how Canadian shoppers react, food businesses adapt, and how the shopping experiences evolves.