Amazon wiped out billions of dollars worth of grocery store market cap last month when they announced plans to purchase Whole Foods. The announcement sent shares of Kroger, Wal-Mart, Sprouts, and Target, among others, plunging… (WMT -4%, TGT -5.5%, SFM -7.6%, KR -12%).
But, as we pointed out back in May, well before Amazon’s decision to buy Whole Foods, Amazon’s success in penetrating the traditional grocery market was always a matter of when, not if. Concept stores, like Amazon Go, already exist that virtually eliminate the need for dozens of in-store employees which will allow them to generate higher returns at lower price points than traditional grocers. And, with grocery margins averaging around 1-2% at best, if Amazon, or anyone for that matter, can truly create smart stores with no check outs and cut employees in half they can effectively destroy the traditional supermarket business model.
And while the demise of the traditional grocery store will undoubtedly take time (recall that people were calling for the demise of Blockbuster for nearly a decade before it finally happened), make no mistake that the retail grocery market 10-15 years from now will not look anything like the stores you visit today.
So, grocers have a choice: (i) adapt to the technological revolution that is about to transform their industry or (ii) face the same slow death that ultimately claimed the life of Blockbuster.
As such, as the the St. Louis Post-Dispatch points out today, the relatively small Midwest grocery store chain of Schnucks has decided to roll out the first of what could eventually be a large fleet of grocery stocking robots.
A slender robot named Tally soon will be roaming the aisles at select Schnucks groceries, on the lookout for out-of-stock items and verifying prices.
Maryland Heights-based Schnuck Markets, which operates 100 stores in five states, on Monday will begin testing its first Tally at its store at 6600 Clayton Road in Richmond Heights. The pilot test is expected to last six weeks. A second Tally will appear in coming weeks at Schnucks stores at 1060 Woods Mill Road in Town and Country and at 10233 Manchester Road in Kirkwood.
The robots are the first test of the technology in Missouri and could ultimately be expanded to more Schnucks stores.
Each 30-pound robot is equipped with sensors to help it navigate the store’s layout and avoid bumping into customers’ carts. When it detects product areas that aren’t fully stocked, the data is shared with store management staff so the retailer can make changes, said Dave Steck, Schnuck Markets’ vice president of IT and infrastructure.
Tally, created by a San Francisco-based company named Simbe, is also being tested at other mass merchants and dollar stores all across the country.
Founded in 2014, Simbe has placed Tally robots in mass merchants, dollar stores and groceries across the country, including some Target stores in San Francisco last year.
“The goal of Tally is to create more of a feedback mechanism,” Bogolea said. “Although most retailers have good supply chain intelligence, and point-of-sale data on what they’ve sold, what’s challenging for retailers is understanding the true state of merchandise on shelves. Everyone sees value in higher quality, more frequent information across the entire value chain.”
The robot does take breaks. When Tally senses it’s low on power, it finds its way to a charging dock. And, the robot is designed to stay out of the way of customers. If it detects a congested area, it’ll return to the aisle when it’s less busy. If a shopper approaches the robot, it’s programmed to stop moving.
Meanwhile, with nearly 40,000 grocery stores in the U.S. employing roughly 3.5mm people, most of whom work at or near minimum wage, Bernie’s “Fight for $15” agitators may want to take note of this development.