Groceries in the Future

By: Michael Pellham, Features Writer

The future keeps assimilating more and more aspects of daily life, and resistance is futile. Even the normal trip to the store to pick up bread and milk has now been innovated upon. The human cashier of old has been replaced by a squadron of self check out booths overseen by one “supervisor”, These booths are always ready (or always down for maintenance) for the customer to scan their own merchandise and complete the checkout process solo. Some places have forgone the human element altogether such as the Residential College’s own 24/7 shop Avenue C where a self checkout station, the honor system, and looming cameras backed by warning signs are your only form of interaction in the grocery transaction. Convenience and efficiency seem to be king as these empty grocery stores and their variations are beginning to expand in this age defined by new technology.

Whether you are delighted with less human interaction in your day or reluctant to see it go, you can start to expect the trend to continue. Shanghai is home to a new prototype grocery store, one that is on wheels and with zero humans operating it. This autonomous store is called the Moby and all it takes is downloading the app to enter the bus and choose your groceries for the week. Once you’ve marked off all the items on your grocery list, simply walk out and you will be charged for your wares. Amazon is teasing on entering this new era of stores with their Amazon Go stores. This concept eliminates the need to physically enter the store, as after you select your items online, you show up to the drive through, where your items will be delivered. Amazon and other grocery stores are taking the next step in grocery shopping with services such as Amazon Fresh delivery. These take the now familiar actions of ordering online, and apply it to your grocery list, fast food, or even restaurant take out. The likes of Chipotle, Five Guys, and even Cold Stone Creamery have now partnered with a similar service provider.

Whether this is regarded as a further distancing of people with the decay of physical communication, or possibly seen as a reason to rejoice for more efficient time management by being able to receive food at a moments notice, is all a matter of perspective. One thought is that a service similar to the automated food buses can provide another food supplier with products, and thus bring competition to rural areas that may only have one or even no grocery stores in the immediate area. Does the fast in-and-out ability of the zero-employee stores offer the ability to be more productive during the day and give more time for work, school, and being with friends, or is something lost without the small talk shared between cashier and customer as the apples are scanned or having that one gas station employee who remembers your name, providing a deeper connection toward your fellow humans? All we have to do is wait to find out.