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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nasimson   Robotic Grocery Stores Pop Up Nationwide   4/23/2012 2:47:21 PM
System protection

Well, this may be a very big step forward in revolutionizing the robotic industry. However, one thing that I am a little confused about is the security of such facilities. I am sure that there must be a very highly secure system working at the back-end for these kiosks but infiltration is always possible. I would really like if someone tell me how are these kind of systems protected against any security breach.   

fbpmt   Robotic Grocery Stores Pop Up Nationwide   4/14/2012 6:01:07 PM
Re: Great concept
How would the manless kiosks send and receive information and update? One of the major issues with today's kiosks, for marketing, payments, etc., could not find the coding which would allow for seamless transmission. Amongst other problems.

Where would the big leap come from?
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kicheko   Robotic Grocery Stores Pop Up Nationwide   4/7/2012 4:02:17 PM
Re: iPods and Such from Kiosks
Robotic shopping stores are a great idea especially on slow days such as public holidays and weekends when many shops may close earlier or the whole day. Also because they should consume less space as they can easily be fitted in a wall somewhere along the campus or subway streets as opposed to a shop that has to accomodate an attendant moving inside.
bnazarian   Robotic Grocery Stores Pop Up Nationwide   4/7/2012 2:30:59 PM
Re: Great concept
@Zaius, I am with you on trashing the scenary and giving additional purpose to structures newly built. I think there is a right way and a wrong way to blend technology and new structures into an environment so it's not ugly. Many towns and living areas, residential complexes have covenants and rules about the appearance of any new structures, they have to blend in with a style and materials that are compatible and complimentary to what's already there. The kiosk manufacturers often offer customization, to what degree I don't know but it's something I am sure they have to consider. I also like the idea of using green technologies and doing something to improve environment not just polluting it. Solar power is something that might work well for outdoor kiosks and would make them more marketable too. 
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bnazarian   Robotic Grocery Stores Pop Up Nationwide   4/7/2012 2:23:22 PM
Re: iPods and Such from Kiosks
@fbpmt, I am so jealous of you New Yorkers. You can get anything there! And the food...don't get me started, there are so many great experiences there for shopping and eating, culture, etc. And then there's the rest of us...

This kiosk idea would work perfectly up on the college campus a few miles from my house. It's about 2 miles down and up hills  one way to the nearest grocery store. I have actually seen students wearing backpacks making the trek to buy some items down at the supermarket and walk all the way back up (even though I'd do it just for the exercise), it can't be done at midnight or 6 a.m. when the store is closed.

It's not for every place for sure, but in places where options are limited it can be a godsend. What happens usually with these grocery kiosks is that they are stocked  by a local grocery chain. Kroger recently installed one on a college campus in Ohio.  
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Zaius   Robotic Grocery Stores Pop Up Nationwide   4/7/2012 7:38:50 AM
Re: Great concept
Now that is a smart consideration. I hate billboards trashing the scenery, signs obliterating the architecture. Let's put all these on device receivers for those who want to know and make the kiosks really attractive and useful while also available on line so you can pre-order and then juist go pick up, or use some young entrepreneur to deliver. The kiosks could be solar powered, could provide bird or bat habitat (up highand on the back) look like little art displays or be living gardens.
Pedro Gonzales   Robotic Grocery Stores Pop Up Nationwide   4/7/2012 12:07:21 AM
great article
I agree college campuses will be the best places to add these places, but I will love them to become more mainstraim like in asia, I'm sure there are more places were technology be placed such as people who work at night or may be rural area i don't know, I know they will be more than welcome on my campus
batye   Robotic Grocery Stores Pop Up Nationwide   4/6/2012 4:24:16 PM
Re: iPods and Such from Kiosks
I think manless kiosks is a way of the future soon you not going to see any food truck.... I think in Japan it already happening in the Tokio Bzz. distric...
fbpmt   Robotic Grocery Stores Pop Up Nationwide   4/6/2012 1:53:40 PM
Re: iPods and Such from Kiosks
Great blog!! In NYC, we have trucks, each with their own food specialty - the yogurt truck, the lamb truck, the jamaican truck, etc. etc. I myself have never boought anything from one of them, but the lines are long outside just about each and every truck.

Now I wonder if the unmanned kiosk would replace the food trucks?

Thinking along those lines, how about putting them in apartment buildings, corner of streets? And how does one get into the "biz?" Are they franchised? Who makes these manless kiosks?? Very exciting!
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Nicky48   Robotic Grocery Stores Pop Up Nationwide   4/6/2012 12:42:45 PM
Re: Great concept
I'm really surprised that this is a new concept. Mind you, I have a 24 hour supermarket just one mile away from me so I'm not sure that I would use one, and if you are in a rural area I'm not sure I would want to see these kiosks all over the place.
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