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The Future of Grocery Stores

June 29, 2011

For parts of 5 years, I worked at two different grocery stores, first as a bagger, then a cashier/stocker, and finally as a front end customer service person. It was retail, it was painful, and it was annoying. However, it provided useful insights into individuals, how they shop, what they want, and how to deal with difficult people. Because of these experiences, I find this article absolutely fascinating.

The first clip is from Tesco, a British owned chain, with regards to an effort they are making in Korea to encourage online shopping. Specifically, they are using QR codes to set up virtual shopping malls in subways (and presumably other places), where shoppers can use cell phones to set up orders. Just like Peapod here in the U.S., then those groceries will be delivered to the home of the customer, or available for pick-up at the store. This is a great way to encourage online shopping – which as we know with Amazon, has its ups and downs. I applaud the effort, I think its innovative, I am just not sure if you can put up enough of these virtual shops to be particularly useful. Since the shelves are all mimicked, you basically need the same amount of space.

The other video on In.Gredient is much more intriguing.  The concept of a full bulk style grocery store is what they are shooting for – you go in with your own containers, pick up.. 3 eggs, 1/2 a liter of milk, 32 slices of bread, and maybe a couple pounds of rice. Tada. By reducing packaging, they are reducing waste, and better providing microtargeting of exactly how much a consumer needs. I know I regularly need something, like say buttermilk, where I need half a cup or a cup but then have absolutely no use for the rest of it. This solves that issue.

This is basically emulating the farmer’s market model but at a set store similar to regular grocery stores today. Maybe it is better described as going back to an old style “general store”, but bigger. I like the idea on first glance – I am a fan of farmers markets and this seems like a constant farmers market kind of idea. There are loads of things that won’t work for this – those prepackaged meals, the rice-a-roni type things, and much more. At least in the near term, the store won’t be for everyone – the demographic focus will have to be on people with specific dietary needs (raw food, vegan, etc), who are already cooking their food, foodies, health nuts, and the like. I am not sure how much more it might expand – part of the appeal of the current grocery store is the ease at which you can get items and store items. I will, however, cheer on any innovation on how we sell things. Stayed tuned for an Ipad and sales model post sometime…

One Comment leave one →
  1. Jeremy permalink
    June 30, 2011 3:09 pm

    Hmm, curious. My traditionalist leanings and general anachronistic propensities mean I really like the 2nd of the two ideas. I picture it working on a smaller scale, much like the old general stores. I feel that for an urban lifestyle, huge supermarkets that carry everything under the sun shouldn’t be needed on a regular basis. If there were a plethora of small markets where I could go in and say to a person at a counter…”That’s right, James, two cups of buttermilk please, and 4 eggs, and while you’re at it a pound of flour”, I’d be quite happy. Growing up, my mother would go to the grocery store about once every two weeks, and we would load up bigtime, spending huge amounts of money all at once for lots of stuff that we would then store at our house. This is because I lived in a suburbia that was on the edge of being “in the country” and the nearest grocery store was a 20 minute drive from our house. There just wasn’t the opportunity, which I now cherish (being in the city) to pop down to the corner store to pick up something we might have forgotten.

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