CHICAGO -- Who says the checkout process is the only aspect of retail worth disrupting?
This month’s Disruption Watch follows a grocer shaking things up with a salad bar, a new take on shopping for refrigerated items, shelves that tell customers where to find the items they’re searching for, and more.
Each disruptor addresses a different problem, but most aim to make shopping easier for customers. Sometimes, as with the digital doors from Cooler Screens or Kroger’s smart shelves, technology has the added benefit of easing processes for employees, but the customer is always front and center.
Click through for more on disruptors reimagining shopping …
1. Who walks to the c-store?
Imagine a c-store where customers get a discount if they walk or bike to get there. Now suspend disbelief, because such a place exists in Portland, Ore., and it is called Green Zebra Grocery.
The c-store/grocery hybrid eschews the typical roller-grill foodservice model for creative healthy options, such as a focus on salad and a kombucha slushy option. “It turns out that if you put a salad bar in a convenience-store format, it becomes your No. 1 seller in no time flat because people want healthier options,” said Lisa Sedlar, founder and CEO of Green Zebra, to CSP sister publication Winsight Grocery Business.
There are currently three Green Zebra locations, but Sedlar's goal is to open 100 stores on the West Coast by 2025. She also plans to launch micro stores that are 400 square feet and will be located in office buildings with at least 500 employees. Office workers check out with their mobile phones. Sedlar said each micro store costs less than $10,000 to build and has no employees.
2. Reimagining refrigeration
Deerfield, Ill.-based Walgreens is taking the science behind digital advertising and applying it to cooler doors with technology from Chicago-based Cooler Screens Inc.
Cooler Screens' refrigerator and freezer doors double as a marketing platform. They not only depict the food and drinks inside, but they can also display advertisements for each customer based on the person’s approximate age, gender and even the weather outside. The screens use proximity sensors and cameras to identify customers, and it also includes back-office tools to help operators track products and out-of-stocks.
The technology is currently undergoing a pilot test phase with Walgreens.
3. Kroger gets smart
In answer to the “just walk out” shopping tech of Amazon Go and other frictionless checkout contenders, Kroger is piloting smart shelves powered by Microsoft, which ease the shopping process.
The shelves can display both prices and promotions to passing customers, help direct customers to items they are searching for in-store and support Kroger’s Scan, Bag, Go program, which allows customers to scan their items for purchase as they shop instead of waiting in line.
4. Bringing the store to the customer
Quincy, Mass.-based Stop & Shop is bringing the grocery store to customers with San Francisco-based startup Robomart.
Stop & Shop is slated to begin a pilot program testing delivery vehicles that go beyond bringing prepicked options to customers. Instead, Robomart’s vehicles deliver shelves stacked with produce and other items, which customers then have the ability to pick themselves.
To participate in the service, consumers can summon a Robomart vehicle with a mobile app. Once the vehicle arrives, the customer checks in with their phones to open the vehicle doors. Frictionless checkout technology tracks what the consumer picks off the shelves and charges the customer’s account automatically after the vehicle leaves. The result is a combination of delivery and frictionless checkout technology. Robomart vehicles will drive themselves once the company secures local government permission. At first, they will be piloted remotely by Robomart employees.
5. Amazon follows with rolling robots
Amazon, the e-retail behemoth based in Seattle, is experimenting with terrestrial drones. The company is testing deliveries via self-driving coolers in Snohomish County near Seattle during daylight hours.
The test changes nothing for Amazon shoppers in Snohomish County while they shop, but their deliveries might be brought by a little rolling cooler. The bots are accompanied by an Amazon employee for now, but the plan is to eventually send the terrestrial drones out on their own to make deliveries.
6. When it's too cold to pay outside
Phillips 66 and the Honda Developer Studio are collaborating to develop an in-vehicle payment option through the car's in-dash infotainment system.
This new in-vehicle feature will allow drivers to find the nearest Phillips 66, 76 or Conoco station and pay at the pump from inside the car. Phillips 66 launched mobile pay in early 2018 and is rolling out the program to all branded stations in 2019.
7. You don't get a receipt with that
In an example of potential forced disruption, the California Assembly is considering a bill that would mandate retailers to offer digital receipts to customers as a default starting Jan. 1, 2022.
Under the current version of the bill, customers could request a paper receipt if they prefer. Environmental group Green America is pushing the bill as a way to cut down fewer trees and avoid toxins that coat paper-based receipts.