Retail

Grocery Tracker: Automation, Integration

In this week’s Grocery Tracker, Panasonic shows off its automatic grocery-bagging robot, two new smart fridges come to market and Sprouts sprouts new locations, while Kmart drops a few.

First up, Panasonic just debuted a system that could change the grocery checkout game for good. (For stores that plan on keeping checkout around, anyway. Sorry, Amazon Go.)

On Monday last week (Jan. 2), Panasonic ran a demonstration of its automated system for scanning and bagging purchases. The robotic system’s smart basket detects the goods inside and calculates the price, at which point the base slides away, dropping the contents into a waiting bag.

Panasonic reportedly partnered with Japanese convenience store franchise chain Lawson on the project. The system is currently running in a Lawson location in Osaka. As of now, customers must still manually scan their purchases before the system bags for them since not every item in the store has been fitted with an electronic pricing tag. Lawson said every item should have a tag by the end of February.

The scale of the system looks ideal for handcart-sized grocery shopping trips. For larger food purchases, it looks as if it will still take less time to scan and bag the old-fashioned way. So, until the system gets a major size upgrade, bulk grocery purchases will still require a human to price and bag — extreme couponers will have to wait a bit longer.

Moving from grocery shopping to where consumers store their goods, last week’s Consumer Electronics Show 2017 saw two companies showing off their new smart fridge upgrades — Samsung’s Family Hub 2.0 and LG’s Smart InstaView.

Samsung’s Family Hub got a voice technology upgrade over the 1.0 model that was released in May 2016. Family Hub 2.0 users can use voice commands to access weather forecasts, the time and the calendar and schedule appointments; add products to shopping lists; and order groceries online, in addition to controlling the other integrated fridge apps.

Not to be outdone, LG has also debuted its next smart fridge iteration as well. LG’s big addition to its Smart InstaView smart fridge offering is an Amazon Alexa AI assistant integration, which will allow owners to reorder groceries using Amazon Prime.

Consumers can also knock twice on the external touchscreen to reveal a clear window inside the fridge to browse their selection without opening the door. The model also allows users to mark food ownership and track expiration dates on InstaView’s accompanying smartphone app.

In brick-and-mortar news, Sprouts Farmers Market plans to open 11 new stores across five U.S. states in the second quarter of 2017. Dan Sanders, COO of Sprouts, was quoted as saying, “As Sprouts continues to grow, we’re deeply invested in enhancing our operations and developing our team members so they can deliver the best experience possible for our guests. Sprouts team members are inspired by the company’s growth and our ‘healthy living for less’ approach to grocery shopping.”

All told, the supermarket chain will look to add some 35 new Sprouts locations in 2017.

Kmart is facing more store closures in 2017 in a push to shift its business model. Sears Holdings Corp. announced that, as a cost-cutting measure, it will be closing 108 Kmart stores throughout the country this year. Sears Holdings will also be selling its Craftsman tool brand to Stanley Black & Decker.

Store closures to cut costs have been common for Sears and Kmart since early 2016 as revenue growth slowed. Edward S. Lampert, chairman and CEO of Sears, was quoted as saying that the closures are intended to “facilitate the transformation of Sears from a store-based, asset-intensive business model into a membership-focused, asset-light business model.” Expect updates on the specific nature of the new business model, as they come, in a future edition of the Grocery Tracker or elsewhere on PYMNTS.

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