The automated shopping experience of the not so far future
With a surge of online shopping and nifty remote socialising technology becoming increasingly commonplace, the nation is slowly grinding through COVID-19. But as the demand is so high for ingenious solutions, the chances are, we will see a real desire for the consumer industry to get ‘teched up’ moving forward, inviting all kinds of ingenious automated solutions into our supermarkets.
This is the world now. Logged on, plugged in… and desperate for the last box of eggs
The British population has spent £10.82 billion at supermarkets in just four weeks, that’s 20% more than this time last year and even tops the mad Christmas rush.
Half of those extra supermarket sales have taken place online
It makes sense. To avoid social contact, people are taking everything to online platforms, and supermarkets that can keep up with this higher demand are winning.
Market warehouses and the robots picking your muesli
As shown by online supermarket, Ocado, operating solely on a direct ‘warehouse crate to kitchen cupboard’ business model removes the need for local and smaller stores; thereby generating less food waste and significantly fewer emissions and congestion, whilst also freeing up land space in and around town and city centres.
The best part is, behind their warehouse doors are robotic solutions, working alongside humans to promote absolute efficiency. These robots are capable of not only picking out your breakfast cereal, but also reducing costs, increasing order fulfilment, and offering a fast track to business growth.
The robots are all coordinated by a central computer, feeding instructions to the unit machines to complete the picking process in the most efficient ways possible. They can’t work without these instructions, so don’t worry – these robots aren’t out to sabotage your shopping list.
Greg Downey OrderWise Robotics team
The robots can move stock from picking to dispatch, lift heavy pallets without dropping items, and are able to react, stop and reroute to avoid obstacles and report to a fixing station if something is amiss.
Supermarket aisles are changing too
This is not to say that all supermarkets are headed entirely online. Many of us still prefer to choose our own fruit and veg, and browse what’s on display in a physical store – which brings us to in-store innovation.
As a more advanced version of our train station timetable displays, digitalised aisle displays could start to appear on our supermarket shelves, displaying prices and names, tracking inventory, temperature fluctuations and more, all in real-time. Connecting to phone apps, these smart shelves will be able to signal to your phone where you can find shopping list items and even compare nutrition and value.
Goodbye to check out queues
We have all seen scan and shop as you go, but an entire Sainsbury’s store in London has now trialled a completely cashier-less and cashless version of this tech (bar a help desk). By downloading an app, you scan products as you shop and simply scan a single QR code to finish and pay, meaning fewer queues and delays. The only snag – you’ll need to head elsewhere if you want age-sensitive items.
Store sensors or Smart Carts?
Interesting tech is emerging is in AI, deep learning and computer vision.
Amazon Go Grocery
The completely cashier-less stores also require you to scan a mobile app to be able to enter through automatic barriers. There are hundreds of sensors located on the ceiling of the store that track your every move using deep learning and computer vision, so if you pick up an item it’s in your cart, and if it goes back on the shelf it’s no longer in your cart.
You choose all the items you want and then leave the store with no need to ‘checkout’. Your receipt will show automatically on your phone, enabling you to easily access your spend history, and if any errors happen, request an item refund on your receipt straight away.
The only problem here lies with taking young children with you, anything they pick up will also be charged to your account!
As checkout processes become less desirable, and an entire store refit isn’t necessarily an option, current stores might opt for a more simple software integration than all these sensors, using ‘smart carts’. Here, your trolley comes equipped with everything you need to shop, carry and pay, connecting to the shops’ systems to recognise a point-of-sale.
Cameras and sensors on your trolley weigh and scan items to calculate the price. Using machine learning, the tablet screen on the trolley can also recommend further items to work with your shopping list, so if you’re making a curry, you will have no excuses for forgetting to bring the poppadoms.
It’s not so long ago that this technology was the stuff of science-fiction. The shift from human-human to human-machine interaction has taken small steps, but it’s safe to say for our supermarkets the trend is now on the rise.