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Where The Future Of The Grocery Store Is Headed

The pandemic has made trips to the grocery store a slog. Prices feel high, lines feel long, and we're all getting tired. The new model of shopping aims to change all of it.

This article by TechCrunch shows what Amazon is doing in its physical stores to improve the grocery shopping process, and it definitely feels futuristic. Currently if you visit an Amazon grocery store, you swipe yourself in with the Amazon app on your phone, and you go shopping as usual. As you go through the store and place items in your cart, cameras and shelf sensors figure out what you're putting in your grocery cart, and Amazon compiles a virtual checkout cart for you as you go along. (I can't tell how this makes me feel.) When you're done shopping, Amazon charges you for what it's logged in your cart.

Now Amazon has announced that it will license this system, called Just Walk Out, to other grocers. Instead of using an Amazon account, all shoppers will need to do is swipe a credit card at the entrance. While this sounds like a pretty big adjustment, Amazon claims that current grocery stores only need a few weeks to be retrofitted with the technology.

Amazon is also working on a smart shopping cart called the Dash Cart. Rather than use a complicated network of cameras, sensors, and software, everything is self contained in this cart. When an item is placed in the cart, scanners will read the item's barcode, and the shopper will need to wait for a beep for confirmation. If it's something like produce, the shopper will need to place the item on a touchscreen and scan its weight. Again, shoppers be able to walk right out with their groceries and everything will be charged to their cards. But there's a catch with this model: it's intended for small trips that involve only a bag or two of groceries. Right now, it's only active in one Amazon Fresh store in California.

Other stores besides Amazon are toying with the idea of cashierless checkout. Multiple companies right now specialize in software that recognizes customers and which items they've grabbed from the shelves. They've also been working on their own smart carts, as well as touchless kiosks that don't require barcode scanning and built-in phone apps that scan each item with a quick verification at checkout.

What about cashiers? There's still a role for them, whether it's helping with manual overrides, alcohol ID checks, and tech support for things that haven't quite gotten fixed yet.

Am I excited for this kind of future? I'm not sure yet. Big Brother probably already knows my strange shopping habits and that I still like to touch grocery items way more than anyone should while deciding what to buy. But we'll see who's boss, robot. We'll see.