Monday’s session at NRF hosted by Microsoft and Italian supermarket chain Coop was titled “The Store of the Future”. Aside from the fact that the entirety of NRF is essentially centered around that concept, the companies nonetheless came together to talk about, more specifically, the future of supermarkets. In this world of disruption and change and technology, not much has really changed about supermarkets. They still largely look and operate about the same as they always have. But Microsoft, Intel, Italian design firm Carlo Ratti, Accenture and Avanade have teamed up to create an exhibition that they hope will mark the beginning of a new age in supermarkets, one that leverages technology and modern digital shopping behaviors to bring a more informed, more efficient shopping experience.
One of Coop’s main goals is to eliminate the barriers that currently influence the interior design of most supermarkets around the world, one of them being the mandate to showcase as many product units as possible. They’re hoping the answer to this is technology. For example, almost every supermarket in the world has very tall shelves. As local market shopping has risen again, supermarkets can feel impersonal and stuffy. Automation can help combat this; by bringing traditionally analog warehousing processes online, the concept store can afford to stock fewer items while still featuring the same assortment. Less floor stock means less shelving which means more room. What do to with the newly-found space?
The concept store utilizes a mix of screens and motion sensor technology to bring consumers more information about products. Aside from nutritional information, ideally, the screens would be able to show consumers the chemical treatment of an apple, its entire journey from producer to shelf. By simply pointing at an item on the shelf, a customer could see all sorts of valuable information about the product on a nearby screen. For a while we’ve heard about the brick and mortar store becoming more of a showroom, and the many digital displays also presents the possibility for customers to stock a virtual shopping cart and have it delivered to home. Of course, eventually the delivery time will need to be near-instant in order for this to bean efficient in-store feature, but we’re getting there.
The Coop concept store also featured a 17-meter-wide screen illustrating real time information like which products were the most popular, the most sold, and which countries they were coming from. This allowed users to gather interesting seasonal and trends information, and one can certainly see the opportunity for social media integration.
And of course, data. While the concept store is still ways off from becoming the norm, the pilot was used to understand how this type of approach can evolve in the future and how it can be applied to the current chain of stores.
It’s interesting to understand what Coop and its partners are trying to do — because the experience of the concept store really brings customers back to a simple shopping journey. It creates a comfortable and natural environment, which definitely looks a lot more like the small fruit & veggies shop at the corner rather than the big department store. Exercises like this are very complicated from a back-end perspective but very simple from a front-end and experience perspective. Whoever perfects the behind-the-scenes stuff might change the supermarket game for good.