What Grocery Shopping Could Look Like in the Future?

May 18, 2020

While it’s only been a few months since we all began to feel the collective effects of this ongoing pandemic, there’s still a lot that hasn’t been made clear. Not only are there epidemiological concerns (as someone who primarily writes about Chuck E. Cheese and giant decorated tomatoes, I’m going to skip right over those), but there’s also a lot of speculation about what our lives will look like in the post-pandemic era. Will we continue to travel leisurely, and if so, what will happen to short- and long-haul flights? Would we still want to stand shoulder to shoulder with strangers at a sold-out rock concert? And how will the first meal inside our favorite local restaurant go?

It’s also a question of what our grocery shopping experience will look like in the coming weeks and months. We’re slowly getting used to wearing masks, following one-way arrows down the aisles, and looking for social distance markers in checkout lanes, but will they always be there? Some analysts think so – here are a few other changes we may see in supermarkets, going forward.

Cashless is the way to go. Retailers are expected to start looking at contactless and contactless payment methods, such as Apple Pay or Google Pay.CNBC reports that Walmart recently added a QR code to its smartphone app, allowing customers to check out without touching the screen or swiping a credit card. And when Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson blogged about the coffee chain’s reopening strategy, he said he would focus on “shifting to more of a cashless experience.” If that works for Starbucks, it’s easy to imagine that supermarkets might be moving in that direction as well – especially since many of them have Starbucks inside.

America Online. Anyone who’s tried (and failed) to arrange Instacart deliveries knows that the demand for online shopping has increased significantly over the past few weeks, and that’s likely to become a popular choice for many shoppers, whether it’s because they’re wary of the convenience of doing their weekly shopping in a public place or at home. There’s also the possibility that some grocery retailers (we see you, Jeff Bezos) may be turning to online only orders or curbside only pickups, eventually sending in-person purchases down the road to VCRs and landlines.

PICK UP AND GO: Pre-packaged items can be quickly and easily tossed into your cart, which means you can get in and out of the store faster. Michael Bjerg, branch manager of the Danish supermarket chain Superbrugsen, says sales of pre-packed fruit and vegetables have increased by 15%. He told Fyens.dk: “Consumers, no doubt to some extent, perceive packaged products as safer”. (Yes, there are all these packaging materials to consider, but not every change will be a positive one, and even now retailers and even entire cities are once again reverting to single-use plastic bags due to concerns about the safety and cleanliness of reusable or cloth versions.)

BUILT FOR SPEED: British supermarket chain Morrisons has been dividing shoppers into basket and trolley groups, with each store allowing more of the former in at the same time because they only need a few items and will be in and out of the store more quickly. While we don’t yet know whether grocery stores will continue to limit the number of customers or whether they’ll be limited to a certain percentage of maximum capacity, we think it’s not entirely far-fetched to think that fast shoppers who only need, say, peanut butter and bagels might get priority access, similar to Morrisons’ current practice.

Employee of the Year. This is something I added to the list, but hopefully we’ll be able to appreciate the employees in every part of the supermarket from a different perspective. From the employee who tidied the shelves overnight, to the floor manager who had to politely tell Karen why she couldn’t take the dairy aisle in the opposite direction, to every cashier who has nervously and bravely clocked in to work since it all started. Thank you.