There is a lot of talk about employee-less restaurants and pick up stores, but these highlight the advantage that supermarkets have – human beings.
Don’t get me wrong, I love robots and we talk a lot about them here and what they can do to reduce costs and even improve some operations – but when it comes to supermarkets, our surveys continue to show decade after decade, one of the most important attributes is the human contact. Who can deny the importance of the fish monger, butcher, chef and baker when they reach out and communicate with the shopper? But the communication has to be on target.
The blend of tech and human is what will make the difference. Even though there seems to be some tech glitches up at Amazon Go – the concept is right. Eliminate the checkout and offer in-store culinarians making fresh salads, sandwiches and prepared foods. Hi-tech – hi-touch.
Wheelys 247 is a staff-free c-store that uses AI to welcome shoppers, unlock the door and to buy – just scan bar codes and leave the store. Hi tech for sure, hi-touch – not so much.
The Wheelys 247 concept seems great at first glance, but in a larger setting, problems seem likely. Theft, power outages and problems where there’s no live person to talk to could all come into play. It also seems like items like produce and bakery goods would be hard to fit into the click and pay system because their costs often rely on weight.
As we move to the future, and a possible $15 an hour scenario at retail, the urge is to replace employees as quickly as possible. Take a breath first and figure out where tech and robots can help – and where they can hurt.