Is this the future of shopping for us all?
At Expo 2015 in Milan last month I spent quite a bit of time at the Co-Op Future Supermarket pavilion. In essence this is actually (just) a supermarket selling real food and drink but one created as a lab to demonstrate to visitors the future technology and information they expect a consumer to demand. It was impressive!
You walk up a series of steps to enter which allows them to tier the supermarket into floors. Products are then arranged as you would expect into produce, meat, drinks, bakery etc. What is really striking though is that the shelves and black boxes (if produce) holding the products are dwarfed by large LED screens at eye level above them. There is a picture at the top of this article and more on my Twitter feed.
So a consumer can literally physically point to a product they are thinking of buying to interrogate it further. This worked really well either pointing with a flat hand or picking up the product. Instantly you were informed of the ingredients, sourcing locations for key components, ethical considerations, transportation method, carbon footprint and more.
It’s true that many of the carbon emissions were similar so I assume they are using category level lifecycle assessments but that has to be the best way to proceed rather than spending a small fortune footprinting every single product – which didn’t work for Tesco and is not necessary when category level assessments are sufficient! Thanks to evidence from WRAP’s Product Sustainability Forum.
They had robots showing the art of the possible by filling fresh fruit in store. A customer would take a punnet and they could re-fill new ones from bulk boxes. Very space age!
In a further demonstration, they took it a step further and link the packaging to the Internet of Things. Basically this uses RFID on the packet to inform your connected devices in your home. For example, it can help you to manage date codes to maximise shelf life.
Interestingly the China pavilion I visited later on also discussed this theme and took it one step further by linking to your stove and hob to tell you how to cook the product, how long, what temperature and even recipes. Though no talk of using RFID the same way as Decathlon Italy who use it to automatically total up your basket at the checkouts.
Is all this technology and transparency the future? All of it or some of it?
To help answer this, the fab guys at 3Keel have worked on a new report for WRAP, available from their annual conference on 5th November. Oh and ETANTE also contributed and wrote some chapters.
Expo 2015 had millions of visitors and the queue for the Co-Op pavilion was as long as that of any country so this approach will have been seen by a great number of people. My own view – the need for transparency is becoming ever more urgent. How it is accessed may not be on shelf screens but through smart phones and watches. One thing is certain - consumers do want to know and there’s still a serious job of work to do by retailers and suppliers to get to the necessary granularity of detail.