Robotic grocery store to open in Des Moines

Discussion
Jun 26, 2015

From self-scan checkout to touch-screen ordering to in-store robotics, technological advancements in retail often seem to point to the possibility of an entirely automated store. While recent media attention has focused on the attempts of big technology players like Amazon to further enable retail to operate without humans at the helm, the first fully-robotic grocery store could come from an unexpected place — a non-profit organization called Eat Greater Des Moines.

A report by KCCI News describes the project. The store is a drive-through kiosk that allows customers to order groceries entirely by touchscreen. Product is then brought to the customer by a system built around a robotic conveyor belt with an "extractor" at the end.

"[The] project takes a simple and familiar idea, a vending machine, and turns it on its head," said executive director of Eat Greater Des Moines Aubrey Alvarez in an interview with Fox News.

An article in Food World News further explains that the store is the result of a partnership between Eat Greater Des Moines and a business equipment firm called Oasis24seven. The plan is to deploy the fully automated stores in food deserts for those who do not readily have access to grocery stores. The robotic stores can reportedly hold from 200 to 800 items weighing up to ten pounds each, and the stores allow for refrigeration. The stores are intended to operate at any time of day.

Robotic stores

Source: Oasis24seven

Ms. Alvarez told Food World News that Eat Greater Des Moines intends to source products from a local non-profit that also supplies 12 food pantries and intends to keep the prices in line with standard grocery stores. The robotic stores will allow for various electronic payment methods.





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The organization plans to begin construction of the store by the end of July and hopes to launch it soon thereafter, according to Fox News.

Bigger players like Amazon have been working to develop robotic technology that automates many elements of retail’s front end and back end. According to a Quartz article, Amazon currently has more than 15,000 robots in its warehouse to move items around, and has recently begun demoing technology it hopes will someday enable robots to handle some or all of the picking process.

A recent patent application from Amazon further suggested that the company is working on a tech-enabled brick-and-mortar presence that would allow customers to shop and purchase items without having to go through a checkout line.

What challenges will come with trying to operate a fully automated grocery store? Do you see a greater potential for deployment of such stores in food deserts or in higher income areas?

Braintrust
"Remember that Snickers bar that got stuck in the vending machine? How angry were you when that happened? Now imagine $60 worth of groceries stuck on a conveyor."
"I love this. I visited a completely self-service store in Canada several years ago and it made me think of a store similar to this. The store I visited had walk-in coolers, self checkout, etc., and a few staff members on the floor to help customers in case of any issues and to restock shelves."
"A giant vending machine store in remote areas sounds plausible, but there needs to be an attendant on location to restock, and make sure the power stays on, and security cameras need installed as idiots will try to bust into the ATM and perhaps break into the building and help themselves."

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9 Comments on "Robotic grocery store to open in Des Moines"

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Gajendra Ratnavel
BrainTrust

Remember that Snickers bar that got stuck in the vending machine? How angry were you when that happened? Now imagine $60 worth of groceries stuck on a conveyor.

The idea is great but there are other people doing similar things with slightly smarter delivery. Korea launched the subway “shopping walls.” I am not sure what they are actually called it but basically the idea is there is a wall full of pictures of products that users can scan with their mobile devices to order them. Then it gets delivered to your home. No reason why you can’t identify where you are getting off and have your groceries ready when you arrive at your destination so you can pick it up and go. If you drive you may be out of luck, until they launch in your office building or just use their website.

Order online and pickup in store, offered in some Walmarts, now is a good alternative for drivers.

Ralph Jacobson
BrainTrust

I love this. I visited a completely self-service store in Canada several years ago and it made me think of a store similar to this. The store I visited had walk-in coolers, self checkout, etc., and a few staff members on the floor to help customers in case of any issues and to restock shelves. I feel a store like this will undoubtedly require at least one person on hand to handle mishaps and unexpected replenishment needs. I also think this could potentially work in most any market, urban, rural, high-income or otherwise. All people buy food, so cater to local markets.

Tony Orlando
BrainTrust

A giant vending machine store in remote areas sounds plausible, but there needs to be an attendant on location to restock, and make sure the power stays on, and security cameras need installed as idiots will try to bust into the ATM and perhaps break into the building and help themselves.

An automatic car wash still needs one person every other day to collect the money and clean the place up, so some labor will be required.

How fresh will the fresh perishables be? If they use cryvac meats and produce it may work, so why not give it a try to test its effectiveness?

This could work and could grow with different grocery chains rather than Amazon grabbing up the market share of this type of store.

Keith Anderson
BrainTrust

Automation has big potential, but these concepts will face challenges optimizing selection, stock availability and freshness.

It’s also not clear whether this specific project is a for-profit or non-profit venture, but as outlined the economics sound really tough. Being in-stock and price-competitive with supermarkets on an assortment of 200-800 SKUs and turning a profit is an uphill battle.

Liz Crawford
BrainTrust

With the cost of human labor nearly 10 times that of robotic labor, it is only a question of time before many retail jobs are automated. I foresee a time when the human labor market has a scarce supply of jobs, at least in certain parts of the world.

That would make work a kind of luxury, as a scarce good. The GDP would go up and so would unemployment. Who works? Should we regulate service industries to ensure employment? These are emerging questions, and I’m sure that politicians will get involved at some point. But before then, maybe we could make some recommendations as an industry.

Cathy Hotka
BrainTrust

What a hilarious gimmick!

Kai Clarke
BrainTrust

Inventory turns and managing fresh fruits and vegetables are certainly an issue for automated grocery stores. Add to this the amount of time it will take to “shop” and limited selections, these stores will have a limited appeal to most shoppers.

Lee Kent
BrainTrust

Has anyone visited Hointer in Seattle? Yes, they have some people on the floor to make sure all goes well—that is a must, but the concept works. And no, it’s not grocery.

For my 2 cents….

Ben Ball
BrainTrust

Skeptics beware!

Everything from fresh milk to fresh eggs (some literally coming directly from the visible chicken!) to fresh produce are already being successfully vended across Europe and have been for a while.

Coming soon to a Walmart forecourt near you!

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"Remember that Snickers bar that got stuck in the vending machine? How angry were you when that happened? Now imagine $60 worth of groceries stuck on a conveyor."
"I love this. I visited a completely self-service store in Canada several years ago and it made me think of a store similar to this. The store I visited had walk-in coolers, self checkout, etc., and a few staff members on the floor to help customers in case of any issues and to restock shelves."
"A giant vending machine store in remote areas sounds plausible, but there needs to be an attendant on location to restock, and make sure the power stays on, and security cameras need installed as idiots will try to bust into the ATM and perhaps break into the building and help themselves."

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