Kroger, America’s largest grocery store, has teamed up with Microsoft to make what they hope to be a formidable foe against Amazon.
Two high-tech grocery stores stores — one in Redmond, Washington and the other in Monroe, Ohio — recently opened as a result of this union to give shoppers and employees an easier, more technology-infused method of navigation. The locations weren’t selected arbitrarily; Redmond is near Microsoft’s headquarters and Kroger is headquartered near Monroe.
These upgraded Kroger stores feature image recognition cameras and digital shelf labels. The shelf labels serve multiple purposes, from helping customers find what they’re looking for with greater ease to displaying pricing and product information or even ads tailored to a customer’s demographic. The seamlessness of the technological experience still doesn’t touch that of Amazon Go convenience stores, which currently have nine locations and operate without any cashiers at all. However, when you compare these Krogers to their 2800 counterparts, they’re far more appropriate for modern society.
When searching for a certain item, customers can use an app or one of the store’s “Scan, Bag, Go” handheld devices to be directed to that item’s exact location. Once they’ve reached the shelf that contains that item, the digital sign affixed to that shelf displays a personalized symbol to alert customers that they’ve reached their destination. This digital signage can also recommend items to the customer based on its perception of his or her shopping habits. Customers then scan the item into the device or app before continuing with their shopping.
This technology stands to make employees’ lives easier as well. Image recognition cameras in the ceiling keep track of which items are running out of stock, and specialized sensors let workers know when the temperature inside refrigerated cases is too high to preserve the food and liquids they contain. Additionally, as employees pass through the aisles, digital signs will flash to let them know which items are needed for curbside deliveries, another service Kroger offers.
Other retail stores have begun to respond to the looming shadow that Amazon has cast over their business models, particularly once it was announced that the ecommerce giant had acquired Whole Foods and that it’s considering launching 3,000 Amazon Go stores nationwide. In July 2017, Walmart announced it was teaming up with Microsoft for a five-year-agreement wherein Walmart will employ Microsoft’s Azure cloud infrastructure and Microsoft 365 in addition to implementing AI and machine learning. As of this point, Microsoft is Amazon’s biggest competitor in the realm of cloud services, and Walmart is Amazon’s biggest rival in the retail sphere.
Microsoft and Kroger are rumored to be working on separate projects outside their partnership too. Microsoft allegedly has plans to create its own cashierless shopping experience with carts that contain scanners to track each item. Meanwhile, Kroger joined forces with the robotics company Nuro in June 2018 to set up a self-driving delivery service.
It seems Jeff Bezos is doing everything in his power to help Amazon achieve dominance across a number of industries. Do you think this dominance is inevitable? Or will innovations like the ones outlined above help Amazon’s competitors stay afloat?