This week was loaded with new moves, developments and shifting consumer patterns in the grocery business, with rollouts from Big Tech serving as the major theme. Amazon Go Grocery added a store in suburban Seattle, Walmart delivery drones took over the skies in North Carolina and cashierless checkout took another few jumps forward as more grocery chains embraced it.
Here are the week’s highlights:
Amazon Adds A Go Grocery Near Microsoft Headquarters
The Seattle area is now home to another Amazon Go Grocery store, this one in the well-heeled suburb of Redmond (home to the Microsoft headquarters a short distance away). The new Go Grocery store is housed in a former Sears Auto Center.
Like Amazon’s smaller Go convenience stores, Go Grocery sites allow customers to shop without stopping at a checkout stand. Instead, Amazon digitally monitors the shopping activities, so customers can just walk out and the technology will settle up with them on the back end. This touchless, literally no-contact payment method has become an increasingly desirable selling feature for Go in a post-pandemic world.
The new location reportedly expands beyond just offering general grocery items to include things like hot prepared food, ready-made meals and local "artisan" breads, cheese and baked goods, catering to the largely affluent shoppers who live near the new location.
The new store will also serve as a real-world pick-up location for online orders made on Amazon.com.
Walmart Drones Take To The Skies
Amazon isn’t the only big name experimenting with out-of-the-box thinking on touchless transactions.
Walmart this week made its first leap forward into the world of drone-based grocery and household-item delivery as it launched a pilot program in Fayetteville, North Carolina, in partnership with drone startup Flytrex.
The drones can reportedly travel about six miles at a little over 30 mph and can carry 6.6 pounds of goods. According to Flytrex, the drones don’t land to deliver goods, but gently lower packages into the customer’s hands from roughly 80 feet up.
Flytrex has received approval from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration to test food deliveries in North Carolina on the requirement that drones fly pre-filed delivery routes.
“We know that it will be some time before we see millions of packages delivered via drone,” Walmart Senior Vice President Tom Ward said in a post on the company's blog. “That still feels like a bit of science fiction, but we’re at a point where we’re learning more and more about the technology that is available and how we can use it to make our customers’ lives easier.”
Walmart isn’t alone in its drone ambitions: Amazon recently got FAA approval to operate its own drone “airline.”
The Race To Embrace Touch-free Checkout
While the Big Tech names tend to get all of the attention for innovation, there was evidence this week that players who are merely established but not gigantic are getting into the digitizing swing of things as well. For instance, CNBC reported that grocery chain Giant Eagle is offering a checkout-less experience in one of its stores.
The network also said the Price Chopper chain has set up a handful of Missouri stores so consumers can scan items with their phones and pay directly via an app. Similarly, Wegmans had been piloting a self-checkout app at three stores prior to the pandemic and has now rolled it out in 80 of its 103 U.S. stores.
“What people want is to get in and out fast,” Giant Eagle CEO Laura Karet told CNBC. “It’s all about speed. [Even] pre-COVID, we constantly challenged ourselves to say: ‘How can we get people in and out of the stores more efficiently?’”