Virtual Carts and Food Trucks Are Part of the Future of Shopping
I recently wrote a story on how the grocery store of the future might not have toilet paper. The article is about how long time successful Chicago grocer Bob Mariano sees the future of grocery stores. He's all in on smaller stores, home delivery of non perishables and prepared meals. Here's another take on the grocery store of the future from BRR Architects, a national design firm whose headquarters are in Overland Park.
BRR Architects designs a lot of things, including grocery stores, convenience stores and gas stations. As far as grocery stores go they've designed stores for Hy-Vee, Walmart, Whole Foods, Schnucks and even a store for Bob Mariano, that Chicago grocer I wrote about, when he was with Roundy's / Kroger in 2016. So they know what they're talking about.
According to BRR Architects, in a blog posted by Katie Crawford on their site, the grocery store of the future may be more like a town square. Part of BRR Architects vision is to optimize the exterior site of stores to get those who buy online and pickup at the store out of their car.
Their vision includes areas where customers can drive up or through to pick up last minute items or even something like a coffee or soda to treat themselves. Additionally, they envision outdoor seating, a place for food trucks and maximizing the use of exterior walls and spaces to communicate the different services offered by the store.
Inside the store BRR Architects thinks stores may be smaller with dual purpose shopping zones. One side, the market side, for customers doing their grocery shopping. The other side, for third party shoppers or store employees fulfilling orders of those who are doing grocery pick up. Additionally, some of what BRR Architects calls "center-store" items might be moved to a micro-fulfillment arena where third party shoppers and store employees can fulfill orders for their customers.
Finally, the store of the future uses increased automation. Those "center-store" items I mentioned that would be in the micro fulfillment center. Well, you'll be able to order those items in your virtual cart as you tool around the market side of the store and they'll be fulfilled at check out. Additionally, a digital concierge service can recommend complimentary product pairings after the first selection is made. And it'll be smart based on shopping habits.
This is another grocery store concept I like a lot. When I asked BRR Architect's Katie Crawford how far away we were from seeing a concept like this, she pointed out many elements of the concept are already a part of the grocery industry, it's how the elements are organized that's different.
I was also surprised to see Walmart implementing some of this, although really, with how much they've changed the grocery business over the years it shouldn't be surprising at all. Crawford told me via email:
The separate pieces (micro-fulfillment, convenience, outdoor markets) that make up this concept already have a their places within the Grocery industry now, but we’re proposing a different organization of these elements within the retail space. You can see this start to happen in Walmart’s announcement about adding small micro fulfillment centers to their stores, and we think that this trend will continue to evolve from there.
As for when this type of concept might reach our area in West Central Missouri Crawford told me, "In order to successfully operate these micro-fulfillment centers, retailers need to know what volume of product sales they would be looking at in any given area. Ultimately, it will come down to what size of community is needed to support the town square concept, and retailers would be examining this before deciding what form their new concept would take on in rural areas."
With the data big grocery store and retail store chains can collect on the people who frequent their stores, I don't think determining what West Central Missouri towns can support a micro fulfillment center or Town Square grocery store concept will be that difficult. Yet, I think we'll see them first in Lee's Summit, Blue Springs and Columbia before they pop up in Sedalia or Warrensburg. So I think it'll be awhile. Hey, at least Warrensburg's getting a Hy-Vee. That's saying something.