Supermarket of the future: the digital and physical convergence of retailers

While there’s little doubt that retailers are facing an uphill struggle to keep customers coming through their doors due to political and economic uncertainty, consumers will always want everyday essentials that they can’t live without – which is where supermarkets demonstrate their weight in the market.

Of course, supermarkets are constantly evolving – have you ever wondered what a trip to the supermarket might look like in 20 or even 10 short years from now? The general consensus is that supermarkets will remain present, but not as we know them today. Gabriele Tubertini, CIO of Coop Italia – Italy’s largest retailer – said: “Supermarkets will still physically exist in 2050, but they will be transformed into places where people will go not only to shop, but also to meet other people and find relevant information about the high-quality products they’re looking for.”

So, how are retailers adapting to changing shopper preferences and behaviour, what are the key industry trends emerging and what might you find in the supermarket of the future?

Effortless checkout

Moving on from self checkout and scan-and-go technology, sensors that monitor your purchases could soon be introduced to your favourite store. A smartphone app will track your purchases and even tell you if you’ve forgotten something. There will be no need to queue or physically pay a cashier – when you exit through a barrier, your account will be automatically charged.

Access to information

Retailers constantly strive to improve the information they provide to shoppers. Food labelling in particular is often under the spotlight for being inaccurate and misleading – so, what if access to reliable information was at your fingertips? Smart screens have the ability to provide nutritional data, as well as promote complementary items and interact with customers when they’re in ‘buying mode’, even if they just popped in for some milk.

Interactive choices

The sheer volume of brands and products available in a supermarket can be overwhelming to say the least. Discounters have taken the lead on simplifying choice in the aisles, which not only enables lower prices and improves the availability of products, but makes the customer journey much less complex too. What if variations of product lines were simply kept out of sight until customers want them, instead of scrapping the variations of products all together? For example, three of the most popular brands of toothpaste could be on the shelf, but an interactive database of products has the full suite for you to browse. At the tap of a button, your preferred item is delivered to you before you leave the shop.

The future is now

Coop Italia initiated the introduction of digital and physical convergence with its ‘Supermarket of the Future’, which officially opened in Milan in late 2016. The store concept was created to provide an ‘engaging and immersive’ supermarket shopping experience and includes interactive food display tables, smart shelves and hyper personalisation – so the revolution is already in full swing and making its way into Europe.

Amazon has also recently unveiled its version of a futuristic supermarket, being dubbed a high-tech version of a 7-Eleven that adds more convenience to convenience store shopping. Amazon Go, the company’s first physical store, allows customers to pick up items and just walk out of the shop – no stopping and no checking out. The technology uses a combination of a smartphone app, a high-tech turnstile entrance, smart cameras and shelf sensors to automatically charge customers for the items that they take out of the store via a mobile payment system.

An AI-powered supermarket concept has been considered by retail giants like Amazon for the best part of the past decade and, as the idea comes into fruition, traditional concepts suddenly look archaic. As tech leaders continue to raise awareness of what is possible for the future of retail, the conventional supermarket will need to adapt, take inspiration from the pioneers and take advantage of the enormous opportunities that digital convergence presents.

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