Look Ma, No Hands or Feet!

July 29, 2015

Mine a long tail of economic benefits from self-driving cars that deliver groceries ordered online.

Driverless cars could be a revelation for supermarkets – helping to shift more shoppers to online grocery ordering and delivery, and further enabling a future of smaller store formats. Couple the cars’ customer outreach with retailer savings on capital expenditures to tally outsized economic gains for retailers.

Lock in these benefits with The Lempert Report concept to use driverless cars while outsourcing their ownership and maintenance. Develop a relationship with an independent third party (perhaps Instacart) that has the knowledge, resources and inclination to manage a fleet. Arrange for cars dedicated to your chain, so they can be branded or co-branded with the deliverer. They could become like racing cars in the sense that they sport multiple brand sponsor logos as well and generate more revenue.

Driverless cars are closer to reality than many might imagine. The Associated Press reports that since last September, the California DMV cleared eight companies to test 82 self-driving cars in the state – and Google has already clocked 1.8 million miles and licensed 48 prototypes. The University of Michigan hosts a $10 million 32-acre testing facility where experts can create many challenging conditions for the cars to handle in a small space.

The Boston Consulting Group predicts the market for driverless cars could reach $42 billion by 2025 and account for one-fourth of global auto sales by 2035, states an account in Telematics Update Automotive, a UK publication. Remove the cost of drivers from the online grocery picture and operating savings are significant.

TLR’s vision is for driverless cars that contain about 10 lockers each for individual orders. Each locker could hold up to six bags, and would include refrigerator, freezer and shelf-stable space. Load up the vehicle at a store or special fulfillment center and program its route so customers receive their orders within a 15-minute window they designate upon ordering.  

Just like Uber, customers should be able to track the vehicle via a smartphone app. By the time the car arrives, customers should have either prepaid or be able to pay via an Apple Pay or CurrentC swipe. Then they get a code to unlock their locker using their smartphone.

And pretty soon, dinner is served.