eGrocery: Safe Alternatives To Lunar New Year Shopping
Amid the one-year anniversary of COVID-19, the entire human population is still searching for effective solutions to combat this global pandemic. Many parts of the world are still following strict travel restrictions to contain the spread of the mutating virus. Humans have largely decreased their activity levels due to concerns on contracting the virus through interactions with others. The global pandemic continues to redefine human’s lifestyle behaviors. From basic physiological needs to self-fulfillment needs, experts from all fields have constantly been discussing new ways of attending to these needs. Life just hasn’t been the same. This shift in lifestyle behaviors has accelerated the adoption of many emerging technologies to keep humans moving forward without too much of a drag. Emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, internet of things, and biometrics are expected to take steps further to match our new behaviors.
One of the most impacted lifestyle behaviors lies within the way we shop for daily necessities. As we approach the Lunar New Year in February, a major tradition during this time is New Year’s shopping. Weeks before the holidays officially begin, people will flock the New Year’s market streets and buy necessities for the festivities before shops close for holidays. With ongoing threats of COVID-19, these New Year’s markets aren’t expected to be filled with people like they once were. How can we possibly help carry on this century-old tradition moving forward? Let’s take a look at grocery innovations to reimagine a safer future in grocery shopping.
Food delivery has been the buzzword in business news in recent years. With constant increase in mobile device penetration around the world in the past decade, the global market for online consumer products and services has expanded exponentially during that time frame. Online delivery services is one of the emerging business segments that benefitted the most. On a global scale, we’ve seen companies like Grubhub, Uber Eats, Foodpanda, Deliveroo, Meituan Waimai, and GrabFood come to light and dominate the markets in their respective geographic regions. Most recently, Silicon Valley’s very own food delivery service company, DoorDash, took itself to the secondary market with an IPO valuation of US$32 billion in December of 2020.
These food delivery companies not only deliver ready made food to your place, but also help you carry fresh groceries to your door. Starting from expanding an average customer’s reach for food options, many food delivery service providers have moved to grocery delivery by offering a selection of convenience stores near the customer. From high-end restaurants to local grocery stores, customers get to pick whatever they want depending on the occasion. They don’t really have to leave the house for food anymore. Companies like Blue Apron even offer meal delivery services bundled with meal kits that include pre-ordered ingredients and suggested recipes. While it makes more sense that food delivery services are more accessible in urban areas, DoorDash’s success in securing a stronghold in America’s suburbs proved that the model works in less densely populated areas as well.
For on-demand delivery services, the future has already arrived. This is what Lunar New Year shopping will look like with these services: take out your phone, open the mobile app, browse through all the items you want and place them in your shopping cart, checkout and make your payment, wait while you complete some housework, and your stuff will arrive at your door ready for pickup. Much easier than squeezing through the crowded shopping streets fighting for limited items on the shelves, right?
Digitalization is still in the preliminary stages for brick-and-mortar stores, as only a small percentage of these stores have applied new digital technologies to move towards an automated future. Most of the digital stores are still exploratory prototypes that large retail franchises are using to gain customer feedback and study customer behaviors. In these digital stores, we can see a combination of technologies used, including machine learning, sensors, and artificial intelligence. Since the outbreak of coronavirus, we can see a number of other technologies implemented to prevent the spread of the virus. For example, traffic light systems are installed at storefronts to control the number of customers allowed in store. In-store sensors can also monitor shoppers’ social distances and send out voice warnings when necessary.
One of the best examples to look at when we imagine what the future in grocery stores would look like is the Amazon Go store. In 2017, Amazon completed the acquisition of Whole Foods Market in an attempt to support its expansion into the grocery store business. Amazon Go, the e-commerce giant’s grocery brand, is a checkout-free convenience store that allows the customers to walk in with a credit card, pick up the items they need off the shelves, and then walk out without ever standing in a checkout line. This is what Amazon calls the “Just Walk Out” technology. This technology uses a combination of machine learning, sensors, and artificial intelligence to track the customers’ movements in the store. The integration of these technologies generates real-time data for the system to sync up their bills immediately as they walk out. Customers are able to leave the store without having to go through a busy checkout line and cause more traffic. Not only that, Amazon is offering this technology to other retailers to provide their shoppers the same experience, pushing for change on a wider scope.
For old-school shoppers that enjoy roaming around a physical store during the Lunar New Year, digital stores provide a realistic option that won’t take away too much of the fun in shopping. You can take your time to look and touch the items before making the purchase. With a streamlined walk-in-and-walk-out process, the customer experience would be significantly enhanced. Your safety also won’t be an issue.
Other than new ways of online and offline shopping, there are also third-party support services that can help provide you a safer shopping experience. Startups like LineScouts have been working with Google and other web mapping service providers to extract real-time data from traffic in popular areas. This can help users avoid overcrowded supermarkets or grocery stores. With the integration of machine learning capabilities, these datasets can generate meaningful insights to provide users more considerations when they choose where to shop. If predictive analytics can reveal meaningful information and trends on COVID-19 spread, it could also be integrated into these real-time tracking services to caution shoppers or even flag certain high-risk areas. On top of these applications, many retail chains around the world have already partnered up with local messenger apps to develop chatbot services for their customers. With simple push notifications, shoppers can avoid putting themselves in danger.
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to inhibit our daily activities, it would only accelerate the advancement of more disruptive innovation. Whether the pandemic is staying with us or not, these innovative applications in shopping will take place in the near future. Now, it seems like the busy shopping streets during Lunar New Year will soon become a thing of the past.