That British institution, the weekly big shop, is wobbling as we enter a world of online voice-ordering, instant robot delivery and mobile shops with holographic staff.
Picture this: 6pm, Wednesday. On the train after work, you open your kitchen app. You tap the fridge icon and a list of its contents appears. In a ‘suggested recipe’ box you can see you have 85% of the ingredients for lasagne, but the app, also connected to your smart cupboards, knows you're out of pasta sheets. It asks if you want to buy them from your usual online supermarket?
You add a bottle of wine to the order, tap ‘deliver now’ and, immediately, your supermarket dispatches the items by drone.
An hour later, you arrive home and your shopping is waiting in a secure doorstep delivery box.
Is this the future? Broadly, yes. Though drones may not take-off. The logistics are complex. But several supermarkets already offer one-hour delivery within London, where – using Starship Technologies’ self-driving, app-accessed robot delivery vehicle – Just Eat has already completed over 1,000 unmanned takeaway deliveries. Likewise, Tesco is trialling robot-delivery and Ocado driverless vans. ‘It’ll be here faster than we think,’ says Craig Wills. Retailers are competing furiously to offer us a hassle-free shopping experience. Hence Amazon’s Dash buttons: branded, Wifi-connected buttons through which you can reorder products with one touch. They may be gimmicky (‘How many buttons do you want cluttering your home?’ asks Emma Weinbren from retail magazine, The Grocer), but other innovations, such as intelligent voice-ordering – the ability to compile a list for delivery via Amazon’s Alexa or Google Assistant – will likely be huge. Ocado recently launched a UK voice service with Amazon. This does not mean shops will disappear.
We foodies, for instance, may always prefer to browse for fresh ingredients.
But shops will look different. Forget self-service tills. Operators are experimenting with mobile, unmanned stores (Shanghai’s Moby Mart, Seattle’s Amazon Go), where, using cameras, sensors and phone apps, registered users can shop and just walk out, paying automatically. No check-outs. No queues. Just a holographic shop assistant at the door. Change will be both radical and gradual, says Weinbren: ‘Amazon shouldn’t be underestimated but, realistically, I can’t see it surpassing the UK’S big four supermarkets in the next decade. Interestingly, Ocado has said it won’t replace drivers altogether. People value the service they provide.’
Robot food shopping deliveries are the future
Amazon has been trialling drone deliveries in the UK for a year