Wheelys might beat Amazon to the punch with its fully-automated grocery store Moby. The Swedish company is currently testing its prototype in Shanghai.
The unit is appropriately compact, accommodating only four shoppers at once and stocking only the bare necessities.
Like customers of Amazon’s automated grocery store, Amazon Go, which is in beta testing with Amazon employees only, Moby shoppers gain entry with their smartphone. The app tracks items added to (or removed from) their bag. When they’re finished, they can simply walk out of the store. No lines, no cashiers. Their account is charged automatically.
Unlike Amazon Go, Moby is going mobile. While the Shanghai prototype is stationary, the forthcoming Moby Mart is shaping up to be the Howl’s Moving Castle of grocery stores.
The solar-powered unit is about the size of a small bus and will one day use artificial intelligence and computer vision to navigate city streets, though the current version is still powered by humans. The store is designed to restock automatically by driving itself to a warehouse, trading places with a fully-stocked, identical unit.
Wheelys has said that it also plans to create functionalities for customers to summon the Moby Mart or to request deliveries by drone.
Moby Mart has the potential to help underserved urban “food deserts” as well as remote rural towns whose grocery stores have closed. One of Wheelys’ founders, Tomas Mazetti, grew up in the Swedish countryside and watched his hometown transform as the little local shops shuttered and people grew accustomed to commuting an hour into the city whenever they needed to do anything.
“The last store closed there in the 1980s sometime,” said Mazetti. “A little piece of the village died. Now, suddenly, in a place like that, the village can team up and buy one of these stores. If the village is really small, [the store] can move around to different villages.”
Moby Marts could be available to communities like this for little more than the price of a new car. $30,000 plus logistics support costs could give a fresh breath of life to small communities like the one where Mazetti grew up.
In Other News…
News has naturally spread that Amazon bought Whole Foods Market last Friday, June 16, for $13.7 billion. The grocery world is still figuring out what that means. Target has seen huge amounts of nervous trading due to the overlapping customer base it shares with Whole Foods and Amazon – an overlap that is not necessarily shared with shoppers of Walmart and other large chains.
For Amazon’s part, it’s continually finding new ways to capitalize on people’s hatred of running errands.
It launched its first public Amazon Go location – which functions just like the stationary version of Moby – in Seattle earlier this year. The company’s internal plans showed that it could build 2,000 grocery stores across the U.S. in the next decade, and that’s in addition to the 431 Whole Foods stores it just acquired.
It also rolled out its new Dash Wand featuring Alexa. The device lets users scan grocery barcodes, convert measurements, and order household goods by voice command, seamlessly adding items to the Amazon cart and proceeding to checkout without requiring users to log on to a computer (a hassle that was part of the original Dash Wand experience). It can also look up recipes and restaurants, hands-free.
The Dash Wand retails for a very affordable $20, which nets zero for Amazon Prime members after rebates. Buyers also get a free 90-day trial of the AmazonFresh grocery delivery service.
How competitors will respond remains to be seen.
But respond they must, as consumer distaste for grocery shopping is becoming ever more clear. Shoppers don’t want to waste their most precious commodity – time – trawling crowded aisles to buy food. They want to pick it up on their way home from work, or have it delivered to their doorstep.
The evidence? A new study by Mintel showed that one in seven, or 14 percent, of Britons do all their grocery shopping online, avoiding the market altogether. 48 percent do at least some of their shopping online. The market is projected to grow by another 12 percent this year.
Meanwhile, Sudbury, Ontario grocer the Real Canadian Superstore has launched its own Click and Collect program that functions like comparable programs by Amazon and Walmart, where customers order online, schedule a pickup window, and collect their groceries from the store once they have been selected and bagged by an employee.
In the U.S., Instacart continues to expand, with service just rolled out in Laredo, Texas. The company is waiving its $99 annual fee for one year for new signups in Laredo. Customers can order from H-E-B and Petco. So far Instacart has made 30 hires in the area, but it hopes to grow that number to 100.