Robots and artificial intelligence set to redefine the supermarket of tomorrow

  • Artificial Intelligence
  • 17.10.2018 09:20 am
The robots are coming! Advances in technology – and the way consumers use it - are set to revolutionise and redefine what Britain’s supermarket will look like by the year 2030, according to new research.
Following Tesco’s launch of its new discount chain Jack's to compete with the likes of Lidl and Aldi, new shopper research from ThoughtWorks suggests cheap price-led food retail has a clear sell-by date, with food shopping set to change beyond all recognition. Consumers themselves can see what’s around the corner – with artificial intelligence set to change the way people select and buy food – and whom they buy it from.
As part of a new study exploring the future of food and drink retail in the UK, ThoughtWorks asked a nationally representative sample of 2,041 adults how they thought the weekly food shop would change by the year 2030, how they would buy their food and where from.
Rise of technology will change the rules of engagement
Almost seven in 10 (69%) consumers said that technology would play a much bigger role in the future, with significant numbers predicting they would do their weekly food shop remotely, rather than walk the supermarket aisles pushing a trolley. Overall, 45% said they would order food on demand via their laptop, 32% believed they would shop via mobile Apps, and 17% saw the day coming when they would order their food via wearable tech, such as their watch. 
In a further indication of the pace of change, today’s 18-25 year olds (or tomorrow’s mums and dads) have a clear vision of how supermarkets will change to keep up with consumer demand. Overall, 65% of young people thought the drive through shopping experience would become dominant, a significant 20% higher than their parents (45-54 year olds). Also, 28% of 18 -25 year olds thought that supermarket staff would be replaced by robot helpers - and that checkouts would disappear completely (27%). Many young Britons see a future where people simply won’t set foot into shops, with 22% predicting technology would automatically re-order food items when they were needed. 
Loyalty redefined
While 66% of Britons still see a role for the supermarket in 2030 Britain, where and how people will source their food will be very different to today - which may make it more difficult for food retailers to build and maintain loyalty to their brands. 
With the increasing focus on food sustainability, the origins and nutritional value of food, the research suggests that people will shop around a lot more - with one in four (25%) saying that they will source their food locally in the future. Further, 25% of respondents said they would be more inclined to source their food direct from local farmers and food producers. Marking a return to ‘The Good Life’ era, one in four people (25%) said that they will grow their own food, with the younger generation driving this trend (31% of 18-24-year olds are set to grow their own food, compared to 20% of the over 50s).
In addition, 35% of people thought that supermarkets will be forced to bow to consumer demand and return to selling locally sourced and grown food. This marks an enormous shift from the current focus on price and discounting – but change is on the way, driven by a resurgent consumer agenda on health and food ethics. Technology is giving consumers greater power, choice and convenience. Technology will also make possible a revolution in food production techniques and simplification of the supply chain. 
The reimagining of tomorrow’s supermarket
Whilst consumers expect technology to transform the look of food retail, 29% of people think that supermarkets will be bigger in the future - but food will only be a small part of what they sell.  Some people still predict that vast supermarket car parks will exist and 33% of people think they will become the main charging hub for their electric cars.
Kevin Flynn, Director of Retail Strategy at ThoughtWorks commented“We have already seen from our consumer research that people are asking more questions about where food comes from, the production methods employed and its nutritional value. From our latest data it is clear that many, particularly younger shoppers that have grown up in the digital age, can see that technology will change the face of food shopping forever.
“Technology will speed up the trends and the consumer’s demands for information and services instantly. Technology is driving consumer behaviour and many supermarkets will soon find the traditional business model is unsustainable. And the robot age is coming. In the home of tomorrow, intelligent household appliances will automatically reorder goods when provisions run low.  Supermarkets in their future form may not have staff, and delivery methods will change. Technology will also be key in streamlining today’s complex supply chain – as food waste, energy use and local sourcing all become much more important issues.”
“And what’s ahead for the major food retailers? There is every possibility food retail will cease to be a category of its own, instead becoming a subset of a broader explosion in health and wellbeing. Supermarkets could exist if they dramatically change their business models – but, conversely, we could see good wholesalers and food producers team up with technology brands to bypass the food retailer completely.”
What consumers say supermarkets will be like in 2030
They will offer a drive through service 
They will sell more local or locally sourced food
They will become the main charging hub for electric cars
There will be no checkouts of any kind
They will be bigger but food will be a small part of what they sell
There will be robot assistants to help people in store
There will be no human staff in store 
They will exist on the high street rather than out of town
They will be small and stock smaller products
Where people say they will get food from in 2030
From a supermarket 
Order it via a computer 
Order via my mobile
I’ll grow my own food 
From a high street shop
Direct from farmers/producers
From a virtual high street shop/supermarket 
Order via wearable technology
Artificial intelligence will order food when I need it 

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