Robotic Grocery Stores Pop Up Nationwide

Birgit Nazarian, Writer, specializing in IT and HR | 4/5/2012 | 24 comments

Birgit Nazarian
It’s late at night. You need a Yoo-Hoo and Oreos, or maybe you’re out of toilet paper, but you’re marooned on a college campus or miles from a grocery store.

Have no fear. A robotic grocery store is minutes away with midnight munchies and sundry items you’re likely to find difficult to live without until morning.

The newest robotic grocery kiosks in the US are the size of an enclosed bus stop and are built to withstand the elements. They are self-contained, refrigerated vending machines with Web-based real-time online management that can carry up to 200 items ranging in weight from one ounce to eight pounds. Inventory selection for these kiosks, which are restocked daily, is usually based on the top-selling items at local grocery stores. These kiosks accept cash, debit cards, and credit cards. For grocers, they are another way to reach customers, improve the bottom line, and stave off market encroachment by convenience stores.

Kiosks that sell food and supplies in population-dense areas like college campuses, city centers, and self-contained communities isn’t exactly a new idea. But robotics, wireless technology, and networking are making the concept bigger and better and allowing the kiosks to perform more complex tasks. The models being installed now allow about seven items to be selected at a time and delivered to the consumer in a robotic basket. As far as logistics go, you won’t encounter one in the middle of the desert or up on the moon yet. Connectivity comes in via wireless modem or DSL, and a dedicated power outlet keeps perishables cool.

Technology used in other industries -- RFID tagging, electronic kiosks of all flavors, digital signage -- is surging into retail environments, identifying niches, and putting down roots. Grocery kiosks are a higher-tech adaptation of devices from the vending machine industry. Unlike some of the other technologies, the robotic kiosks are meant not to enhance the shopping experience in stores, but to create a self-contained retail environment where there wasn’t one before. The store is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week to serve consumers who might have limited options and access to the products they need.

College campuses are a no-brainer, but the kiosks are also being installed in residential communities. They even make sense on large corporate campuses. With a grocery kiosk at work, you could pick up a loaf of bread and a gallon of milk on your way out the door, instead of making that extra stop on your way home. In the United States, we’ve overlooked this concept for a long time, mostly because in most of the country, we tend to travel by car, and we have cheap real estate to put up more grocery stores. No wonder the machines in train stations and urban hubs in Europe and Asia make us feel like we have a long way to go to catch up.

Retail innovations seem to be moving in hyperspeed. Looking at the then-futuristic world of the 1960s cartoon The Jetsons, it doesn’t seem too far fetched now to imagine those robotic machines processing grocery purchases and delivering a tuna casserole and mixed green salad for dinner.

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bnazarian   Robotic Grocery Stores Pop Up Nationwide   4/5/2012 11:00:16 AM
Re: Reminds me of Tesco
@syedzunair, that's a nice time saving option. I am probably too picky to take advantage of ordering groceries online, but I've begun to use webs for ordering the kinds of things typically stocked in pharmacies like skin cream, vitamins and make up. You know what you're getting.

I wonder how a 3 lb. chuck roast is going to look coming out of a robotic grocery kiosk. I'd definitely use it for other things. One place I would like to see a kiosk like this is in airports. Airports have limited food options and travelers now have to rely on buying and bringing their own food and drink, But bringing is tricky because you have to go through TSA security first, so you have to buy most things, especially drinks inside the terminal.

The gift/magazine stores that sell drinks, etc. have limited variety and traditional food vendors often attract long lines at the registers before flights. Some of those kiosks might fit in well there.
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syedzunair   Robotic Grocery Stores Pop Up Nationwide   4/5/2012 10:43:50 AM
Reminds me of Tesco
The article reminded me of Tesco's virtual retailing experience in South Korea. Tesco put up images of its products on subway stations. People used their smartphones to select the items by scanning their barcodes and making their purchase online. By the time they reached home, their grocery was delivered to them.
syedzunair   Robotic Grocery Stores Pop Up Nationwide   4/5/2012 10:35:51 AM
Great concept
I can see how these kiosks can help college students who love to munch while pulling off all nighters to submit their assignments :)Would love to have one in my neighborhood.
CurtisFranklin   Robotic Grocery Stores Pop Up Nationwide   4/5/2012 9:33:54 AM
Reminds me of Kyoto...
I live in a college town, and when I travel to other cities I'm frequently amazed to find out that not every grocery store and pharmacy is open 24 hours a day. I'm all in favor of the robotic grocery stores: They remind me of the banks of vending machines you see on neighborhood street corners in Kyoto and the suburbs of Tokyo. You wouldn't want to do all your shopping from the robotic kiosks, but for last-minute or late-night purchases, they're really quite wonderful.
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