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Albertsons becomes latest Microsoft retail partner

Joining other big retailers looking to thwart Amazon’s grocery expansion, Albertsons Cos. has signed a three-year agreement to make Microsoft Azure its preferred cloud computing platform.

Microsoft Corp. and Albertsons confirmed the deal on Friday after Anuj Dhanda, chief information officer at the Boise, Idaho-based supermarket company discussed the partnership in an interview with CNBC.

Though still running some of its own data center infrastructure, Albertsons aims to significantly expand its implementation of Microsoft’s Azure, which already had been used for certain workloads, Dhanda (left) told CNBC. The retailer also plans to have employees subscribe to the Microsoft 365 office/productivity software service.

Albertsons, which has been a Microsoft Windows and Office user, decided to go with Azure because of Microsoft’s technology prowess and track record with enterprise-level projects and large retailers, according to Dhanda.

Another reason for teaming up with Microsoft was that it’s not a competitor, he said in the CNBC report, referring to Whole Foods Market parent Amazon.com Inc. and its fast-growing Amazon Web Services (AWS) tech services arm. He noted that Amazon’s rapid expansion into retail grocery has spurred Albertsons to upgrade its IT infrastructure and shopping experience.

Besides ramping up use of Azure — including for the rollout of a mobile app that lets customers pump and pay for fuel — Albertsons aims to leverage Microsoft artificial intelligence (AI) technology and could work with the company on checkout-free payment in stores, Dhanda told CNBC. The retailer had said during an investor presentation in May that it was testing cashierless, Amazon Go-like technology.

Overall, Albertons Cos. operates almost 2,300 stores in 35 states and the District of Columbia, spanning more than 20 retail grocery banners, including Albertsons, Safeway, Vons and Jewel-Osco.

Recently, Microsoft has drawn several major food, drug and mass retailers to its cloud platform.

Earlier this month, the company unveiled a partnership with The Kroger Co. to jointly develop and market a retail-as-a-service (RaaS) product for the retail industry. Plans call for the Azure-based solution to be piloted at a Kroger store in Monroe, Ohio, and a QFC store in Redmond, Wash.

And last week, Microsoft and Walgreens Boots Alliance (WBA) announced a seven-year partnership to develop new delivery models, technology and retail innovations to improve health care. This year, Walgreens is slated to pilot up to 12 store-within-a-store “digital health corners” to merchandise and sell health care-related hardware and devices. WBA also agreed to migrate most of its IT infrastructure to Azure — including new retail, pharmacy and business services platforms and data and analytics capabilities — as well as use Microsoft’s AI technology and 365 services.

Walmart named Microsoft as its preferred and strategic cloud partner in mid-July. The five-year pact calls for the retail giant to roll out Microsoft’s cloud solutions for customer-facing services and internal business applications, including Azure and Microsoft 365. The initiative also includes migrating much of Walmart.com and SamsClub.com to Azure, the companies said, adding that cloud-powered checkout will enable Walmart to grow with rising customer demand and reach more global markets.

Source: Supermarket News

Giant Food stores to unveil new e-commerce concept

Giant Food Stores envisions a new brick-and-mortar concept as a catalyst for online grocery.

The Ahold Delhaize USA supermarket chain plans to open an e-commerce hub branded Giant Direct Powered by Peapod in Lancaster, Pa., on Feb. 12. The 38,000-square-foot facility will provide a pickup venue for customers ordering groceries through the retailer’s Peapod online service and app, as well as via Giant’s website.

“We are excited to make Lancaster the home of our newest innovation with the launch of our new Giant Direct Powered by Peapod e-commerce hub,” Nicholas Bertram, president of Carlisle, Pa.-based Giant, said in a statement Monday. “Not only is the e-commerce hub a completely new concept for us and a first of its kind in our area, it’s the product of a fruitful collaboration with Lancaster Mayor Danene Sorace and local residents to give the Lancaster community the shopping experience they want and need.”

The Giant Direct facility, located at 235 North Reservoir St. in Lancaster, will serve as a curbside pickup site as well as a grocery delivery center. Specially designated “Pick Up Here” parking spaces will enable online customers to drive up and have their orders brought to their cars. The hub also will have a walk-up vestibule for picking up and placing online grocery orders, with the latter accomplished using tablets.

To place an order with Giant Direct, customers use their computer or mobile device to visit the Giant or Peapod websites or the Peapod app, enter their ZIP code and start shopping. Prior to checking out, they will be asked to select whether they would like to receive their order by pickup or delivery.

Giant noted that the hub, developed in tandem with Peapod Digital Labs, also will serve local residents by extending its delivery reach deeper into greater Lancaster communities.

”Our Giant Direct Powered by Peapod location will deliver fresh, quality foods direct to your car, direct to your home or direct to your business,” said Bertram. “We’re thrilled to bring real innovation to Lancaster-area residents but, just as importantly, customers can expect the Giant Direct Powered by Peapod experience to be personalized, inspiring and delivered with a smile.”

Giant unveiled plans for the new e-commerce hub in late June as part of a $22 million investment in Lancaster County. The project also included four store remodels, price reductions at the retailer’s eight stores in the county and the opening of a new fuel station at its Lititz store. In announcing the hub, which will add 150 jobs to the local economy, Giant said the facility would allow the chain and Peapod to serve up to 40% more shoppers.

On Monday, Giant said that Giant Direct Powered by Peapod banner, which includes a new, contemporary logo, will replace the current Peapod by Giant branding. Overall, the chain has five e-commerce facilities, with the other four located in Camp Hill, Coopersburg, North Coventry and Willow Grove, Pa.

“Giant Direct Powered by Peapod will allow more loyal Giant customers, starting with our neighbors in Lancaster County, to shop how they want, when they want and where they want — whether in-store, online or at a convenient pickup location,” Bertram added.

The investment in Lancaster builds on a $70 million plan, announced in April, to expand Giant’s store network across Pennsylvania. That initiative calls for six new stores, two store remodels and four new fuel stations over the following two years. In November, Giant also opened a store in Lancaster’s Willow Valley area that was acquired from Darrenkamp’s Markets.

In the 2019 first quarter, Giant is slated to finalize the purchase of five Shop ‘n Save supermarkets from Supervalu Inc. And this past weekend, a new urban store concept called Giant Heirloom Market, sized at 9,500 square feet, made its debut in downtown Philadelphia.

Overall, the chain operates 171 stores in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia under the Giant Food Stores and Martin’s Food Markets banners.

Source: Supermarket News

Robot Detects Spill on Aisle 3 But Human Cleans It Up

A wheeled robot named Marty is rolling into nearly 500 grocery stores to alert employees if it encounters spilled granola, squashed tomatoes or a broken jar of mayonnaise.

But there could be a human watching from behind its cartoonish googly eyes.

Badger Technologies CEO Tim Rowland says its camera-equipped robots stop after detecting a potential spill. But to make sure, humans working in a control center in the Philippines review the imagery before triggering a cleanup message over the loudspeaker.

Rowland says 25 of the robots are now operating at certain Giant, Martin’s and Stop & Shop stores, with 30 more arriving each week. Carlisle, Pennsylvania-based Giant says it has two robots now working at stores in the state, and plans to expand to all 172 Giant stores by the middle of this year.

The chains are all part of Dutch parent company Ahold Delhaize.

The robots move around using laser-based “lidar” sensors and pause when shoppers and their carts veer into their path.

The googly eyes are fake, but each robot has eight cameras – some directed down at the floor and others that can see shelves. Rowland said the robots can eventually be repurposed to help monitor a store’s inventory.

A robot observed Tuesday at a Stop & Shop store in Seekonk, Massachusetts, alerted store associates to a price tag that had fallen in one aisle, and a tiny sprig of herbs in another. After moving along for a few minutes, it returned to the scene of each spill and waited until an employee pushed a button to acknowledge that the debris was picked up.

It’s not the only robot that U.S. shoppers might spot this year. Walmart and Midwestern supermarket chain Schnucks have deployed robots that help monitor inventory.

A union that represents Giant and Stop & Shop workers says it’s keeping an eye on Marty. It remains to be seen what the groceries will ultimately use the technology for.

UFCW President Marc Perrone said in an emailed statement that the “aggressive expansion of automation in grocery and retail stores is a direct threat to the millions of American workers who power these industries and the customers they serve.”

Source: Insurance Journal

How smart is your fridge? Smart appliances have built-in sensors to tell consumers when to buy more groceries — or even buy them automatically

Consumers are finally starting to adopt smart home devices, with nearly 60% owning at least one device. This presents an opportunity for e-commerce companies to enter the smart home and encourage purchasing through the devices.

The smart speaker has become the face of the smart home in many ways, attracting the lion’s share of attention as companies look for ways to take advantage of the growing platform. But there’s a problem: Consumers aren’t using the smart speaker to actually buy products very often.

Instead, one of the clearest opportunities outside of the smart speaker is home goods and grocery replenishment through large appliances. Smart devices in the home — especially appliances — can take advantage of built-in sensors to either tell consumers when they need to buy more of a product, or make that purchase autonomously. This will create an opportunity for appliance manufacturers, e-commerce vendors, and product suppliers to ink supply agreements to meet consumers’ needs.

In The E-Commerce in The Smart Home Report, Business Insider Intelligence examines several areas of opportunity for e-commerce companies to leverage smart home technologies to provide new and better services to their customers. First, we explore how smart appliances, including connected dishwashers and laundry machines, are building on one-click purchasing systems to enable automated replenishment. We then discuss the smart fridge and detail how apps, cameras, and voice assistants are enabling takeout and grocery delivery through these appliances. Finally, we examine the role of the voice interface beyond smart speakers as it relates to purchasing products in the home, and how omnipresent voice will be used to organize and interact with automated services.

The companies mentioned in this report are: Amazon, Blue Apron, Costo, GE, Google, Instacart, Keurig, KitchenAid, LG, Ocado, P&G, Plated, Reynolds, Samsung, Target, Walmart, Whirlpool.

Here are some key takeaways from the report:

  • Companies have a clear opportunity to leverage sensors, cameras, and connectivity in a variety of home appliances to revolutionize the way consumers buy home goods.
  • Smart appliance manufacturers, e-tailers, and CPG companies will be able to collaborate and partner to develop new methods of resupplying consumers’ homes.
  • The smart fridge will transform into the hub of the kitchen and become the autonomous organizing device that oversees grocery purchasing and food delivery.

In full, the report:

  • Provides an overview of the key players and types of products in the smart appliance space.
  • Highlights the models that companies can adopt to take advantage of the developing sector.
  • Identifies the key services that will boost automated e-commerce engagement in the home.

Source: Business Insider

Digital Commerce and Gen Z: How retailers and brands can appeal to the next generation of consumers

Generation Z, also known as iGen or Centennials, is arguably the most pivotal generation to the future of retail. By 2026, the majority of Gen Zers will reach adulthood, and their spending power will reach new heights. Retailers and brands need to start establishing relationships with Gen Zers now to ensure success in the years to come.

smart home voice assistant benefitsBI Intelligence

But Gen Zers, who we define as those born between 1996 and 2010, are different from older generations, and understanding their characteristics and preferences is essential to capturing their attention — and their dollars. Though members of older generations have grown accustomed to using the internet, Gen Zers are the first consumers to have grown up wholly in the digital era. They’re tech-savvy, heavy internet users, and mobile-first — and, most importantly, they have high standards for how they spend their time online. Retailers and brands — which have spent more than a decade trying to catch up to millennials’ interests and habits after ignoring them and the digital revolution for too long — must leverage Gen Z’s tendency to be online at all times, and make sure to meet the generation’s heightened digital expectations.

In The Digital Commerce and Gen Z Report, Business Insider Intelligence explores Gen Z’s current shopping habits — both online and in-store — and how those habits might evolve over time. It looks at their spending power, both now and in the years to come, and the drivers that lead them to complete a purchase. It also assesses Gen Zers’ unique traits, and the ways that retailers and brands can leverage those characteristics to make them loyal customers.

Here are some key takeaways from the report:

  • Gen Zers are young and only beginning to flex their muscles as consumers, but they’re already an extremely valuable generation to retailers and brands. They hold billions in spending power right now, which will skyrocket as they get older.
  • Gen Z currently likes shopping at physical stores, but retailers will need to capitalize on Gen Zers’ interests in retail innovations and their digital expertise to keep them coming back through adulthood.
  • These young consumers have higher expectations for their online shopping experiences than any generation before them. Most won’t use slow-loading websites and apps, or hard-to-navigate ones.
  • Quality is more likely to be a driver of loyalty for Gen Z, and it also provides motivation to complete a purchase. A retailer or brand trying to connect with Gen Z should look to curate an image of quality in a way that resonates with the young generation.

In full, the report:

  • Explores the current and future spending power of Gen Z.
  • Examines Gen Zers’ interest in brick-and-mortar shopping, and identifies how retailers and brands can capitalize on it.
  • Provides insight into the generation’s digital expectations, and analyzes what they mean for selling to Gen Zers online.
  • Discusses the influence of quality and social media on Gen Z’s purchase behavior, and considers potential courses of action for retailers and brands.

Source: Business Insider

Fry’s leads field in grocery customer loyalty

Fry’s Food Stores finished first in a list of the top 25 supermarket chains by customer loyalty from digital advertising specialist inMarket.

Analyzing location data from 50 million verified consumers, inMarket ranked grocery retailers based on average frequency of customer return visits per month for 2018. Fry’s, a Kroger Co. chain with 119 stores, had an average customer return trip frequency of 2.44 for the year, ahead of No. 2 Giant Eagle at 2.30.

“Loyalty has often been a barometer of success for businesses. By using metrics like customer loyalty index, grocery stores can determine the health of their repeat shopper business,” inMarket said in its report, which evaluated grocery chains with at least 50 stores.

The Kroger Co. had seven chains on the list, including three in the top five. Besides No. 1 Fry’s, they included Ralphs at No. 3 with a score of 2.26 (tied with Publix Super Markets) and Smith’s at No. 4 with an average frequency of 2.24. Other Kroger Co. banners making the list were Harris Teeter (No. 6 with a score of 2.20), Kroger (No. 7 at 2.17), Dillons (No. 17 at 1.72) and King Soopers (No. 18 at 1.70).

Rounding out the top 10 chains in average frequency of customer return trips were H-E-B (No. 5 with a score of 2.23), Safeway (No. 8 at 2.12), Food Lion (No. 9 at 2.03) and Vons (No. 10 at 1.95).

“Some grocery chains with heavy penetrations in urban areas tend to have higher loyalty metrics than their rural competitors. This could be because denser geographic areas incentivize more frequent trips,” inMarket noted in its analysis.

Four Albertsons Cos. grocery banners were on the inMarket 2018 loyalty list. Along with Safeway and Vons, they included Albertsons (No. 12 with a score of 1.90) and Jewel-Osco (No. 23 with an average frequency of 1.57). Ahold Delhaize USA had three of its supermarket chains on the list: Food Lion, Stop & Shop (No. 11 at 1.91) and Giant Food Stores (No. 22 at 1.58).

InMarket’s ranking also had three independent grocery chains with fewer than 100 stores: Schnuck Markets (No. 20 with an average return trip frequency of 1.61), Wegmans Food Markets (No. 21 at 1.60) and Big Y Foods (No. 24 at 1.55).

“Grocery stores have higher customer loyalty than their retail counterparts due to necessity. Consumers simply need to purchase food more often than other retail products,” according to Venice Beach, Calif.-based inMarket. “That said, by looking at the grocery category average, we can understand which chains are thriving or struggling in terms of customer loyalty.”

Is Amazon set for grocery success during a recession?

A tumultuous end to 2018 and a slow start to 2019 have some market analysts whispering about a threat that was seldom mentioned during the longest bull market run in financial history: a recession. And while a recession is far from a sure thing, it’s worth looking at how one might affect Amazon, a company like no other.

No company can count on doing particularly well in a recession, but certain subsets of the economy are known to be better insulated than others. One such subset is the grocery store business, which tends to weather recessions reasonably well as people have to buy food no matter how the economy is doing. Amazon is certainly not a grocery store, but it does own one (Whole Foods), and it does sell groceries on Amazon.com. Can those holdings become a hedge against possible economic downturns?

How groceries fit into Amazon’s business strategy

Amazon started as an online bookstore, but it quickly shed the limitations that came with that and became an “everything store.” If it could be shipped, Amazon would sell it (or would help a third party to sell it to you) on Amazon.com. And as Amazon grew and leveraged its size while cutting shipping deals, more and more things became cost-effective to ship. Those included groceries and home supplies such as detergent, which Amazon started selling under its Prime Pantry program. (Amazon also sold things that were not cost-effective to ship, but it has recently made efforts to become more profit-minded with its offerings.)

Amazon acquired Whole Foods in 2017. In the deal valued at $13.7 billion, Amazon gained everything Whole Foods had to offer, from its branding to its 475 brick-and-mortar grocery stores. Amazon is planning to add more Whole Foods stores around the U.S.

In addition to its physical grocery store options, Amazon is pushing hard in the online grocery shopping market. Whole Foods groceries can be ordered from Amazon Fresh and Prime Now, which are Amazon’s grocery delivery and same-day delivery programs, respectively; and Whole Foods groceries are no longer available through online delivery competitor Instacart.

All of this matters to Amazon, but it’s important to keep perspective and remember just how big Amazon is. Amazon hit $1 trillion in market cap last fall. It’s worth more like $815 billion as of this writing, but that’s still nearly 60 times the value of the Whole Foods deal.

In the third quarter of 2018, Amazon reported $4.25 billion worth of sales from all of its physical stores (including its bookstores, pop-up stores, and Whole Foods stores), which was dwarfed by online sales of $29 billion. Of course, Amazon sells groceries online, but even Amazon optimists cite numbers that put Amazon at $2 billion in total online grocery sales for all of 2017.

For comparison, Amazon Web Services brought in $6.68 billion for Amazon just last quarter. With that said, Amazon is the top dog in the online grocery sales market — it’s just that the online grocery sales market isn’t that big, at least not yet.

That doesn’t mean that it won’t be nice for Amazon if its groceries sell well during an economic downturn, but it does mean that some perspective is useful. To be a meaningful hedge against broader weakness, Amazon’s grocery business will need to grow.

That “whole paycheck” image

When thinking about how Amazon’s grocery business will do in an economic downturn, it’s also worth noting that Whole Foods is arguably not as well-positioned as other grocers to weather tough economic times because of its higher prices.

Consumers need groceries no matter how the economy is doing, but Whole Foods is not a typical grocery brand. It’s a premium brand, and premium brands rely more on consumers’ disposable income. Whole Foods has only around 2.5% of the grocery store market, which is well behind Walmart, a big Amazon rival that has more than 5,000 physical locations (more than 10 times as many as Whole Foods has) and a 23% market share in groceries.

Of course, Amazon can try to reposition its grocery offerings — especially online.

Online grocery shopping and Amazon’s future

Right now, Amazon’s grocery offerings don’t seem like much of a bulwark against recession. But the company is moving in the right direction: As it grows its grocery business and targets audiences less interested in premium grocery offerings, it is getting a bit of insurance against troubled economic times and turning up the heat on rival Walmart.

Walmart still has the inside track, of course. It has far more locations, and it is improving its online grocery shopping options and delivery services. And while Amazon is ahead online, groceries remain something that most people buy in person. Some observers expect online grocery shopping to make up just 20% of all grocery sales by 2025, leaving 80% of sales for in-person shopping.

But 20% of grocery sales is still a lot of money, and Amazon is in a position to dominate that market with an established customer base and more than 100 million Amazon Prime subscribers to work with.

Source: The Motley Fool

Retailers face delivery disconnect

As food and grocery retailers grapple with unsustainable last-mile delivery models, a rising percentage of consumers seek free shipping for online orders, new research shows.

According to the Capgemini Research Institute, retailers are absorbing a sizable chunk of last-mile delivery costs for online grocery orders. The average cost incurred per online order is $10.10, yet the average cost recovered from customers per online order is $8.08, the researcher reported in its “Last-Mile Delivery Challenge” study, released last week. Consumers are only willing to pay an average of $1.40 per online order for delivery.

Meanwhile, shoppers increasingly expect free delivery of items they purchase online, the National Retail Federation said. NRF’s latest “Consumer View” survey, released this week, found that 75% of the roughly 3,000 U.S. adults polled want delivery to be free even on orders less than $50, up from 68% a year ago.

Tim Bridges, global sector leader for consumer products, retail and distribution at Capgemini, noted that consumers also have had their ups and downs with online delivery service.

“Today, customers are neither satisfied with the quality of delivery services nor willing to bear the total cost of last-mile delivery,” Bridges explained. “Therefore, the dilemma facing retailers is to provide last-mile delivery services that customers value, without damaging their own profitability.”

Among supply chain executives surveyed for the Capgemini study, 99% said they think online delivery orders are less profitable — by an average of 19% — versus in-store purchases. The vast majority (97%) also believe their current last-mile delivery approach isn’t sustainable for a large-scale rollout. In an analysis of a hypothetical U.S. grocery retailer, Capgemini calculated that net profit could fall by 26% (from a net profit margin of 3.48% to 2.58%) from 2018 to 2021 unless delivery capabilities are improved.

Currently, companies are charging customers only 80% of the overall delivery cost, according to Capgemini’s report, which surveyed 2,874 consumers in North America and Europe and executives from 500 grocery retailers and consumer product firms. And delivery is the most expensive part of the supply chain, accounting for 41% of costs, over two to three times as much compared with warehousing (13%), sorting (20%) and parceling (16%). Just 1% of customers indicated a willingness to absorb the total cost incurred for last-mile deliveries.

NRF’s study revealed that many consumers now assess shipping costs even before getting to the checkout page. Of those surveyed, 65% said they look up free-shipping thresholds before adding items to their online shopping carts.

By age range, Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964) demand free shipping the most, with 88% expecting it, versus 77% for Generation X (1965-1980), 61% for Millennials (1981-1994) and 76% for Generation Z (1995 and later).

Shoppers, too, want to receive their orders quickly. Thirty-nine percent expect two-day shipping to be free, and 29% indicated that they’ve abandoned a purchase because two-day shipping wasn’t free, NRF found.

Seventy percent of consumers aware of click-and-collect service — buy online, pick up in-store — had tried it, primarily to avoid paying for shipping. Most using click-and-collect pick up their orders at checkout (83%), NRF said. But as pickup options expand, 63% said the would like to use curbside pickup (tried so far by 27%), 56% want orders delivered to the trunk of their cars (tried by 19%) and 50% want to collect purchases from a locker (tried by 16%).

“Consumers want free delivery, and they’re willing to meet retailers halfway to get it,” commented Mark Mathews , vice president for research development and industry analysis at NRF. “If we can get their purchase to the store, they’ll come pick it up, if that’s what it takes to avoid a delivery charge. And once they’re in the store, they are very open to seeing what else the retailer has to offer. This is part of the growing evidence that consumers see retail as retail regardless of how they make their purchases and get them.”

Capgemini’s study notes that the demand for online grocery delivery is clear. In the United States, for example, 38% of consumers received deliveries once a week or more from grocery retailers (40% across all areas examined), and that percentage is expected to rise to 52% by 2021 (55% for all areas).

Forty percent of customers deem delivery services as a must-have when buying food and grocery products, and 20% report they will switch retailers if this service isn’t offered. And retailers that do provide delivery reap benefits: 74% of satisfied customers say they’ll boost their spending by as much as 12% at retailers where they make frequent purchases, according to Capgemini’s report. Conversely, consumers won’t recommend retailer delivery services with high fees (59%), no same-day delivery (47%) and frequent late deliveries (45%).

Retailers can improve online grocery fulfillment — and their margins — by increasing store-based deliveries by 50%, using dark stores as delivery/pickup locations, using lockers for delivery/pickup, and employing backroom automation. The Capgemini study estimated that latter could hoist profits up to 14% by cutting the cost of delivery and click-and-collect service.

“If done right, their last-mile experience can win customer satisfaction, and retailers stand to gain loyalty, increased purchase value and frequency,” Bridges added, “while mitigating profitability risk through automation and optimization of fulfillment locations.”

Source: Supermarket News

Is Amazon the Sears of a new generation?

It’s been said many times before that the evolution and ultimate rise of Amazon could be compared to that of the legendary American retailer Sears. Both companies created a new business model where there was none, founded on the principle of bringing the store to the customer. For Amazon, that meant an online digital empire; for Sears, a famous catalog and mail-order delivery that was “the Amazon of its time.”

Times change and so do business models. Last fall, Sears — the original everything store — filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The retailer had long ago eschewed its catalog business for brick-and-mortar, with close to 4,000 stores across the United States at its peak, which lasted from the 1930s to the 1980s. At the time of its bankruptcy filing in October, Sears was operating 687 underperforming Sears and Kmart stores. At press time, the retailer had survived its bankruptcy auction with a $5.2 billion bid from former CEO Eddie Lampert, but Sears’ store count had dwindled to down to 425.

Now, word is that Amazon is exploring vacated Sears locations to convert into Whole Foods Markets. This makes sense on several counts: Amazon recently announced plans for a nationwide expansion of Whole Foods; the former Sears locations would give Whole Foods a foothold in new markets outside of major cities and suburbs; and the further-flung locations could be ideal for the Amazon Prime Now online grocery delivery service.

Though Amazon has not confirmed the strategy publicly, Yahoo! Finance reported that the significant overlap between shuttered Sears or Kmart locations and markets that Amazon is looking to enter makes it a likelihood that some Whole Foods stores will end up filling those locations. And the possible distressed nature of those properties could mean a discount on rent, Yahoo reported.

Interestingly, Sears never jumped on the grocery bandwagon that its fellow mass retailers Walmart and Target would later have so much success with. (Maybe grocery wouldn’t have been a good fit for a retail brand so closely linked to car batteries and kitchen appliances.) And for a company with its origins in fulfillment and delivery, Sears was shockingly unprepared for the e-commerce revolution.

When the next retail revolution strikes — whatever that may be — we can expect Amazon to be ready for it (or, more likely, responsible for it). In the meantime, Sears lingers on with a troubled future.

As retail giants go, maybe Amazon is “the Sears of our time.”

Source: Supermarket News

Stop & Shop is testing self-driving mini grocery stores

Grocery store chain Stop & Shop announced today that it will begin testing driverless grocery vehicles in Boston starting this spring, combining the hype of autonomous delivery cars, cashier-less stores, and meal kits into one experimental pilot. The launch is part of a partnership with San Francisco-based startup Robomart, whose vehicles will cart around Stop & Shop items like produce, convenience items, and meal kits to customers’ doorsteps.

The electric vehicles will be temperature-controlled to keep produce fresh, and controlled remotely from a Robomart facility. Customers can hail the mini grocery stores via an app, on an interface which feels a lot like calling an Uber. Once the vehicle arrives, customers can unlock the doors, and the items they grab are tracked with RFID and computer vision technology. When they’re done shopping, they can send the vehicle on its way, and a receipt is emailed soon after. It’s like a much tinier Amazon Go store coming directly to your house.

Stop & Shop is experimenting big with robots this year, as the chain recently deployed a fleet of googly eyed robots to patrol its aisles in 500 Giant, Martin’s, and Stop & Shop stores. The robots, created in partnership by Retail Business Services and Badger Technologies, are nicknamed “Marty” and roam around stores looking for spills and messes to clean up. It’s equipped with sensors so it doesn’t bump into any shelves, and cameras to check when items are running low on stock.

Badger Technologies

So yes, retail automation is here and maybe eliminating jobs, but who among us can resist a good pair of giant googly eyes? So fun! Maybe these self-driving mini grocery stores could use a pair, too.

Source: The Verge