The real next-gen supermarket experience is coming

New and emerging technologies are exciting for everyone, but can retailers really use them to craft a brand new experience?
28 August 2018

Driverless grocery delivery trucks are becoming a reality. Source: Ocado Technology

When you think of supermarkets trying to build the next-gen experience, you’ll realize that not too many of them really offer something on a national or global scale.

Sure, there are pilot projects in the US and the UK, but there’s hardly anyone who has used emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), big data, and the internet of things (IoT) across their business — wowing customers no matter where they are.

In the true sense, supermarkets are still building the real next-gen experience, and getting there first means winning a share of customers’ hearts just as much as it will mean earning a share of their wallets.

Ocado Technology CTO Paul Clarke, in an exclusive interview with TechHQ, explained some of the exciting things that emerging technologies can do for supermarkets and why they should pay attention.

“For customers, it’s particularly important to shop faster with less friction. Especially because the average shopper now places an order for 50 items and makes more than one purchase per week,” said Clarke.

According to the CTO, new technologies make it possible for supermarkets to use AI and build a “broadband of grocery” where the right groceries turn up at the right time as if by magic, without you even having to order them.

In fact, using emerging technologies, supermarkets can truly personalize the shopping experience through different lenses (organic, gluten-free, etc) instead of building physical stores which offer a “one size fits all” approach.

As well as creating opportunities for exciting new features, AI and machine learning can help retailers improve customer experience.

For example, Ocado Technology has developed a system built on TensorFlow and Natural Language Processing to help support staff prioritize and respond to customer emails about issues and challenges they face.

“The AI-enhanced email processing system has improved response times by 400 percent and has provided a cost saving of more than GBP100,000 (US$128,000) per year,” said Clarke who will be discussing the solution at the Tech. event in London next month.

But that’s not all. There are loads of innovations that supermarkets can take advantage of these days in order to truly transform how customers “experience” shopping.

TechHQ, for example, spoke to Magway last week who is building a mass-subterranean linear motor based distribution system that can help grocers deliver goods to their customers within hours of placing an order.

“Drones, autonomous and electric vehicles and novel modes of transport and energy will play an integral part, but a mass-subterranean linear motor based distribution system is something that will transform supply chains for the next 100 years,” said Magway Co-Founder Phill Davies.

Ocado Technology too, is working on helping grocers take advantage of exciting technology-driven solutions such as driverless grocery deliveries and robotic arms with high dexterity.

Just last year, Clarke’s company concluded a driverless grocery delivery trial in partnership with the GATEway Project, a GBP8 million (US$10.32 million) research project.

The electric self-driving van, called CargoPod, was developed by Oxbotica and trialled by Ocado Technology over a two week period. It delivered free groceries to residents of the Royal Arsenal area in Greenwich — successfully demonstrating the power and convenience that new technologies offer to grocers.

The truth is, there’s plenty of choices for grocers willing to experiment with new technologies.

However, they need to realize that the time to lead by example is now. Any later, and they’ll be left playing catch-up with pioneers who win over the market (and customers) by delivering stunning experiences with the help of emerging technologies.


TechHQ is the official media partner to Tech. in London next month. Readers can avail of a 30 percent discount on passes using the code TECHHQ3018.