Grocers are using autonomous vehicles to help bring fresh food to the doorsteps of consumers, and news came this week that another retailer plans to use the technology: Approximately one month after Kroger announced that it had started to use autonomous vehicles in Arizona, Stop & Shop is intending to use them in the Bay State.
With the help of Robomart, a startup based in California, the grocery chain plans to bring produce, convenience items and meal kits to the customers’ doors through roving autonomous mobile stores in the Boston area. Customers can request the vehicles through a mobile app, and, when one arrives, they can choose produce as well as other products from the vehicle. As they shop, computer vision as well as radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology records their selections and receipts can be sent by email to customers “within seconds.”
Stop & Shop President Mark McGowan said in an announcement, “This is one way in which we’re leveraging new technology to make shopping easier for our customers — by essentially bringing the store to them.” He continued, “We also recognize that many of our customers want the opportunity to make their own choices when it comes to fresh produce, and we're proud to be the first retailer to engage with Robomart to address our customers’ needs with their cutting-edge solution.”
The vehicles themselves are said to be electric, and, according to the company, they “will be remotely piloted from a Robomart facility.”
In a similar move, thousands of miles away, Kroger announced last month that it has begun to use unmanned vehicles called R1. Those vehicles, according to the company, only deliver goods and do not carry passengers or drivers. The concept has been in development with Nuro for some time — since 2016.
In the announcement of the firm's new offering, Kroger Chief Digital Officer Yael Cosset said, “Kroger customers are looking for new, convenient ways to feed their families and purchase the products they need quickly through services like pickup and delivery. Our autonomous delivery pilot with Nuro over the past few months continues to prove the benefit of the flexible and reliable technology.”
Will grocers beyond Kroger and Stop & Shop use autonomous vehicles for deliveries? For now, these retailers are seeing potential for the technology, with Stop & Shop noting in the release that its engagement could allow it “to expand beyond its existing brick-and-mortar footprint.” The aim, then, is that grocers can let consumers shop in person outside of the four walls of the store with autonomous technology.
In Other Brick-And-Mortar News
Chico’s FAS plans to cut back on its store footprint as it seeks different ways to optimize its business and cut back on costs. The retailer, which has a brick-and-mortar presence that spans more than 1,400 locations in the U.S. as well as Canada, is looking to shutter 250 stores at a minimum in the United States. With the store closings, which are said to involve its Chico’s, Soma and White House Black Market brands, the company hopes to benefit from lease expirations as well as return on capital and better profitability.
Chico’s CEO and President Shelley Broader said in an announcement earlier this month, “Our focus is on implementing those initiatives that drive the greatest levels of growth and profitability of our business … this includes continued improvement in each of our differentiated brands, increased flexibility and efficiency across our organization, and fully leveraging the capabilities of our robust omnichannel platform to meet the ever-evolving needs of our customers and to enhance shareholder value.”
In other news, Whole Foods Market is reportedly scrapping its plan to expand its 365 stores. The retailer's chief executive, John Mackey, told employees that the company has opted to not open any additional Whole Foods 365 stores per an internal email that Yahoo Finance obtained. The existing 12 stores, which boast smaller formats and cheaper prices, will remain in business.
Mackey wrote, according to the outlet, “as we have been consistently lowering prices in our core Whole Foods Market stores over the past year, the price distinction between the two brands has become less relevant. As the company continues to focus on lowering prices over time, we believe that the price gap will further diminish.”
And Indochino, a digitally native made-to-measure menswear brand, has plans to grow its brick-and-mortar footprint this year. The company, which is based in Vancouver, plans to bring 20 new stores to the North American region in places like Brooklyn and Manhasset, N.Y before turning its eye to international markets.
When Indochino made the transition from a digital-only to an omnichannel retailer, the brand decided to open smaller stores called showrooms. Within those spaces, shoppers receive a personalized experience to create a one-of-a-kind garment or wardrobe, selecting everything from the type of fabric lining to the stitching. As a result, Indochino doesn’t have to stock many items.
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