Here's What Grocery Shopping Could Look Like in the Future
Although it has only been a couple of months since we all started to feel the collective effects of this ongoing pandemic, there's still so much that hasn't been figured out. Not only are there the epidemiological concerns (and as someone who mostly writes about Chuck E. Cheese and giant decorative tomatoes, I'm skipping right past those), there's also a lot of speculation about what our lives will look like in the After Times. Will we continue to travel recreationally and, if so, how will short- and long-haul flights change? Will we still want to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with strangers at sold-out rock concerts? And how is that first meal inside our favorite local restaurant going to go?
There are also question marks over what our grocery shopping experiences will look like in the weeks and months ahead. We're slowly getting used to wearing masks, following one-way arrows down the aisles, and looking for social distancing markers in the checkout lanes, but are they here to stay? Some analysts think so—and here are several other changes that we might see in supermarkets, going forward.
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Cashless Is King: Retailers are expected to start focusing on touchless and contactless payment methods, like Apple Pay or Google Pay. CNBC reports that Walmart has recently added a QR code to its smartphone app, which allows customers to check out without touching a screen or swiping their credit card. And when Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson wrote a blog post about the coffee chain's reopening strategy, he said that it would be focusing on "a shift toward more cashless experiences." If it works for Starbucks, then it's easy to imagine that supermarkets might move in that direction too—especially since so many supermarkets have Starbucks inside them.
America Online: As anyone who's tried (and failed) to schedule an Instacart delivery knows, the demand for online grocery shopping has significantly increased in the past several weeks, and it could become the go-to option for a lot of shoppers, whether it's because they remain wary about being in public or they appreciate the convenience of doing the weekly shop from home. There's also the possibility that some grocery retailers (we see you, Jeff Bezos) could pivot to online orders only or curbside pickup only, eventually sending in-person shopping the way of the VCR and the landline telephone.
Grab-and-Gone: Pre-packaged items are quick and easy to throw into a shopping cart, which means that you can get in and out of the store even faster. Michael Bjerg, a branch manager of Danish supermarket chain Superbrugsen, says that sales of pre-packaged fruits and vegetables have increased by 15 percent. "Consumers, undoubtedly, in a certain way, consider packaged products to be safer," he told Fyens.dk. (Yes, there's the issue of all of those packaging materials to consider, but not every change will be a positive one; even now, retailers and even entire cities have reverted to single-use plastic bags again, due to safety and cleanliness concerns over reusable or cloth versions.)
Built for Speed: British supermarket chain Morrisons has been separating shoppers into a basket group and a trolley group, and each store allows more of the former in at one time, since they only need a few items and will be in and out of the store more quickly. Although we don't yet know whether grocery stores will continue to limit the number of customers or whether they'll be restricted to a certain percentage of their maximum capacity, it's not totally far-fetched to think that quick shoppers who just need, like, peanut butter and bagels might be given priority access, similar to Morrisons current approach.
Employees of the Year: This is my own addition to the list, but hopefully we'll come out on the other side of this with a greater appreciation for grocery workers in every single part of the supermarket. From overnight shelf-stockers, to the floor managers who have to politely tell Karen why she can't go down the dairy aisle in the opposite direction, to every single cashier who has nervously and bravely clocked in for work since this all started. Thank you.