Shopping – The Revolution is Coming!

Technology is changing the way we do everything and next on the change list is the way we do our shopping.  Shopping has been a familiar weekly chore for decades.  The ubiquitous supermarket has provided us with almost everything we needed and smaller local shops filled any gaps.  Over the last 20 years supermarkets have diversified as they have added clothing and electronics to their range.  Prices have remained reasonable and in many cases gone down in real terms, especially with the arrival of low cost supermarkets such as Lidl and Aldi.  Sainsbury’s Basics range is about as cheap as anything else available, and this is from a supermarket that traditionally targeted the middle classes.

But we still had to go to the shop.

The revolution is already underway.  Online shopping has been around for a few years.  We simply place an order online through a dedicated app or through the supermarket’s online store and wait for delivery.  Simple!

But this is only the beginning!

Smart tech and the Internet of Things (IoT) is making more possibilities available all the time.

Smart fridges can monitor stock levels (and if fridges can do this there is no reason why other food storage areas such as cupboards can’t).  On the simplest level an app is now available that uses cameras placed in such areas.  The latest photo (which is taken based on opening the fridge door) is sent to your mobile phone so if you are in a shop you can check at a glance what you have in.

If a fridge can monitor what you have, it is not much of a step for it to monitor your consumption habits and create a smart shopping list that again will be available through an app on your smart phone.  As items are consumed your fridge can communicate with your smart phone and add items as they are used up.  Not only this, but the app can get smart by monitoring your usage and through a set of algorithms and variances (that are used in retail all the time to manage reordering of stock) get your shopping list pretty accurate.  This would include items that are bought rarely.  Of course the app would need to have a function in which you can add or remove items manually.

It wouldn’t be too difficult to develop a fridge with dedicated areas for certain products that could even weigh your products to help monitor how much you use.  For example milk levels could easily be monitored, by the actual quantity of milk you have left, rather than the number of bottles / cartons that remain.

Fridges are not the only technical items that can do this.  There are now even food processors on the market that can add to the shopping list by simply selecting the recipe you want to make (see for example the Thermomix).  The tech will then automatically add any missing ingredients.  Of course this may require some pre-planning.

The smart shopping list can then order your shopping online if you choose to and voila!

And there is more!

Assuming you still want to actually go to the supermarket an app is being tested in the UK that not only compiles your shopping list, but then, in coordination with the supermarket, plans the most efficient route through the supermarket so you can get through as quickly as possible.  In other words it acts as a kind of Sat-Nav for the supermarket.  Not only this but it also scans the items as you go round and then you can go to a self-service till and pay without having to scan everything again.  This seems contrary to the business model most supermarkets use, as they want customers to loiter and explore, so it can only be assumed that cost savings are made in other ways to make it worthwhile, presumably this means reducing staff costs.

However the previous example aside the overall direction seems to be to encourage online shopping.  If the shopping list app is tied in to the supermarkets’ stock databases there is no reason why it couldn’t divide your shopping list between 2 – 3 supermarkets to maximise your savings.  It is a false economy to save a few pence on an item to drive across town to get it from another supermarket, but if they are doing the deliveries it is no longer your concern.

In fact if you have created a link between your home storage, smart device and the supermarket databases, there is absolutely no reason why your shopping couldn’t be totally automated and operate using similar stock control logistics as commercial warehousing, including concepts such as FIFO (First in First Out) and LIFO (Last In First Out).  We can, with the exception of unpacking, leave the shopping to sort itself out.

Finally, if delivery scheduling is difficult the supermarket could offer a pick up service in which they put the customer’s shopping together and the customer then simply comes at their own convenience, for example on the way home from work.

It seems that the future of the supermarket it is as a distribution centre.

It sounds almost Utopian, in terms of time saving and economy, but it would mean relinquishing control and trusting Artificial Intelligence.  Are there any downsides?  Only time will tell.

The revolution has begun!

© Richard Horton, Omega Support Services 2018

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