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Have you ever wondered what supermarkets of the future would look like? Did you ever consider an online alternative to getting your groceries?

I am a surfer. I like to surf in the mornings. Then, sometimes, I do my grocery shopping. Once inside a supermarket, it is always the same thing. Looking for favorite brands, hunting for good prices, standing in lines, etc.. On average, a supermarket trip takes about 1 hour door to door. Does it have to be this way? Is there an alternative?

Well, there could be. I own an iPhone. Why can't I open an iPhone app, log into my virtual store account, and order items that I want, delivered to me within a reasonable time frame, from 20 min to 1 hour. This app can have a history of my previous orders, a list of my favorite items and brands, a list of most frequently bought items, etc.. anything to streamline my shopping experience. Would something like this be useful? Could this actually substitute a physical trip to the supermarket? If this saves me 1 hour a day and removes supermarket headaches, I am ready for change.

How could something like this actually be implemented? Well, let's go back to good old warehouse approach. Dry food can be stored in clean and secure compounds. There could be special sections for frozen items, items in bulk, produce, cold cuts, prepared foods, bakery, etc.. Such warehouses could be automated to stock, fetch, and package desired items. Deliveries could be made by a fleet of specially designed delivery trucks. Each warehouse will be responsible for an allocated area and will have a number of delivery trucks assigned to it based on population density.

What are the benefits of this approach? Well, for me, I get to go home after surfing and have my food waiting at the door. For food distributors, this is probably something to think about. Here is a list of possible benefits:

1. Higher availability of favorite brands
2. Easier inventory management
3. Reduced city traffic
4. Reduced need for large parking lots
5. Energy savings
6. Increased general public productivity
7. Cheaper prices
...

So the big question is, are we ready for online food shopping experience?

Views: 41

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Comment by Mika Leuck on March 25, 2009 at 3:30pm
Unfortunately Seiyu is not in Hawaii... I hope there is a similar service in Hawaii soon!
Comment by Viil on March 24, 2009 at 4:31pm
There were several services for online ordering of delivery groceries in the late 90s in Europe, but none of these early services survived as far as I know. I always assumed the problem was not enough customers, as well as the service not being very flexible when it came to delivery times, etc.

I would love to have a service like the Seiyu service Mika mentioned. Is it feasible in Hawaii?
Comment by Gabe Morris on March 24, 2009 at 11:32am
Not directly related but interesting nonetheless:
http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2009/03/24/us/AP-New-Frugality-Auctioning-Groceries.html

A new term for the year - salvage grocery!
Comment by Konstantin A Lukin on March 24, 2009 at 2:20am
Safeway also offers delivery in select locations. However, they have $150 minimum purchase, $6.95 for delivery and a schedule of 2 hour windows. Even if this was available in Hawaii, I'd hardly use it.

For me to consider this, minimum purchase should be lower, ideally somewhere in the $20 to $50 range. Delivery can be scheduled, or instantaneous, ideally within 1 hour. The price for delivery should already be factored in.

Their technology must be top of the line and ecology friendly. Delivery vehicles should be quiet and well designed, equipped with electronic touch screen dashboards for location tracking and base communications. They should be powered by some clean fuel technology.

Such company must have robust mobile support, since a lot of orders are made while on the go. They should also consider exposing their services as widgets, since dashboards are become increasingly popular.

As for packaging, automated 3D modeling could probably help. Each food item can be scanned in 3D wireframe and an algorithm applied to calculate best possible fit within a given space.
Comment by Mika Leuck on March 23, 2009 at 11:47pm
In Japan, Seiyu supermarket offers delivery service. You order online and they deliver at the exact time you select. I really miss their service!
Comment by Konstantin A Lukin on March 23, 2009 at 1:12pm
Looks like those disadvantages apply to the way FreshDirect does business, not online grocery delivery in general. There are alternatives to their approach.

For example, delivery vehicles could benefit from hybrid utility truck technology. These vehicles could also possibly be electric, since they usually make short trips before coming back to base to recharge.

There are also answers to packaging. For example, there is a company called Cereplast, that manufactures natural biodegradable plastics.

Using boxes as packaging is probably not the most efficient process anyway. Did you ever receive your online order in this super big box, where most of it is just empty space? One of the key things to succeed in this venture is probably to come up with a very efficient packaging solution. It will save $$ on raw materials, truck space/mileage, minimize # of active trucks, etc...

I would not mind receiving my groceries nicely packaged in biodegradable plastics. These bags could be designed as extra-durable and possibly hot-sealed for safer delivery.
Comment by Gabe Morris on March 22, 2009 at 10:04pm
Fresh Direct is *extremely* popular in New York. New condos are now even built with big refrigerators in the lobby so that Fresh Direct deliveries can take place while people are at work.

However, there are ecological disadvantages to this method of procuring groceries:
http://bit.ly/3Ac1ee
Comment by Konstantin A Lukin on March 22, 2009 at 8:49pm
There is another company out there, called PeaPod. They are on the east coast, have been around for a while, and seem to follow a more prudent expansion path. It also looks like they are closely working with existing grocery retailers, which is probably a smart way to introduce online grocery shopping to customers. I'd like to see businesses like these grow in the near future, especially here on the Islands. There are just too many benefits, and I think people are becoming more open to online shopping experiences.
Comment by Daniel Leuck on March 22, 2009 at 6:52pm
WebVan, a credit and delivery grocery business that started in the late nineties, tried this very model but went bankrupt in 2001. I'm painfully familiar with their story because I was a happy customer and, like many of my friends, had some money in the company. Not only could you order your groceries on line, but they would come to your house and stock your refrigerator! They had great customer service and I was very happy with the quality of their produce. Because of their warehouse approach they always had a huge selection. I have a dozen friends that rode WebVan's stock all the way to the end, convinced they were going to revolutionize the industry.

That being said, I think their problems related to flaws in execution (mostly premature expansion leading to unmanageable debt) and being ahead of the technology rather than having a fundamentally flawed business model. It would be much cheaper to operate such a company today. I also think the market would be much more receptive.

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