“Digital shelves” can light up to help you find items on your shopping list.

By Mike Pomranz
January 07, 2019
Suwaree Tangbovornpichet/Getty Images

With about 11 percent of the market, Kroger is America’s largest pure grocery chain (only Walmart sells more groceries). But recently, Kroger has a new competitor to worry about—or more accurately, two old competitors that have teamed up against it: Whole Foods and Amazon. As a result, Kroger has been looking for ways to expand its reach– things like ratcheting up delivery and teaming up with Walgreens. But now, the grocery chain is apparently taking a “two can play at that game” approach as Kroger has found its own tech giant to team up with: Microsoft.

Kroger has partnered with Microsoft on two remodeled test stores—one near Kroger’s headquarters in Cincinnati, Ohio, and the other near Microsoft’s in Remond, Washington—which use technology like “digital shelves” and a personalized, in-store self-checkout app to make shopping easier, according to a new report from Bloomberg. “Together we can create something that, separately, we could not,” Kroger CEO Rodney McMullen said in an interview.

The new system—the most recently result of an extensive 18-month-plus partnership between the companies—is meant to aid both customers and employees. Potentially the most helpful feature for shoppers is that these digital shelves can light up with a personalized icon to help you find products from a shopping list, putting an end to frustratingly scouring shelves for the exact item you’re looking for. And of course, these changing digital displays can also tailor ads specifically to a customer’s needs and interests, with Microsoft AI even being implemented to potentially determine things like age and gender.

Meanwhile, the high-tech system has other advantages for Kroger. The smart systems can reportedly cut in half the time it takes for employees to fill online orders—potentially making curbside pickup that much quicker. Plus, all that digital tracking means it’s easier to determine when shelf needs refilling or when temperatures in refrigerated areas get too warm.

Kroger says that, eventually, this fancy new system could land in all 2,780 stores. You may even see it outside of Kroger as well: The brand said it’s considering selling the technology to other retailer, creating a new, non-grocery-related revenue stream. Turns out Amazon’s foray in groceries might force some traditional retailers to learn a bit about the tech biz, too.

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