The advent of online shopping ushered into homes across the globe, a revolution in convenience. No longer do consumers have to travel to a store to browse items and make a purchase. Instead, the store would come to them digitally with a click of a button. In the past two decades, the growth of on-line shopping has overthrown brick and mortar shops in almost every consumer product category; from clothing to media purchases. However, the most essential of those categories – groceries – is still sold almost entirely at a physical store.
It’s not for lack of attempts on the part of grocery retailers. Supermarkets around the world have allowed customers to order food and household items online for years. Amazon, the world’s largest e-commerce company, set up its Fresh subsidiary specifically to bring its speedy deliveries to the grocery space. Despite these efforts, a recent study showed that only two percent of food and alcohol sales in the US are made online.
Automation is bringing major changes to the retail landscape. However, automation in grocery stores is nothing short of inventive.
The start of 2018 heralded a new era for food retail with the opening of Amazon’s first Go store, a shop in Seattle where, through a network of hundreds of ceiling-mounted 3D imaging cameras, customers can simply walk in, pick up items off the shelves, and walk out without even reaching for their wallet. The store is able to track individual customers, automatically updating their online shopping cart as they go, and charge the bill to their Amazon account once they leave.
Behind the scenes, food retailers such as British online supermarket Ocado are using machine vision to automate their warehouses, with an innovative combination of robotics and machine vision helping to pick and pack around 260,000 orders per week from a range of 50,000 different types of product.
With the use of 3D imaging in agriculture becoming more common, soon the food in our supermarkets will have been under the watchful eye of machine vision from the moment of harvest to the point when it enters our shopping bags.
While the automation in groceries store seems to be the wave of the future, none of it will be possible without the ability of the equipment to effectively and efficiently ‘read’ the information provided by a barcode, QR code, or another definable marker. Universe Optics provides a precision lens manufactured to your precise specifications to ensure that our food sources can be tracked.
Automating certain aspects of the customer journey can be a benefit to supermarket brands – at least given current economic, cultural and regulatory circumstances. However, in order to future prove against a sea of changes that may happen quickly and without warning, brands must ensure that automation has a positive impact for the customer as well as the brand’s bottom line. Additionally, brands must not neglect the human aspect of the shopping experience. Ideally automation should relieve staff from mundane tasks that do not allow for the building of relationships, and move human beings into more specialist roles where customers are likely to be engaged.