Food retail has always been an earlier adopter of transforming technologies. As most of us are open to anything that makes the everyday more fun and interesting, supermarkets are ideal places to experiment with innovative tech. Which unexpected technological items will we see next in the bagging area? Fast Forward audio doc episode 2 explores the aisles.

Supermarkets of the tech revolution

Visiting the supermarket isn’t as mundane as it might seem, suggests broadcaster and cultural theorist Ken Hollings, in the second episode of our audio documentary series Fast Forward, Scan purchase for maximum score. We got used to barcodes, QR-codes and interactive in-store experiences with little fuss, so what’s next?

Design researcher Benjamin Parry imagines the supermarket experience of the future. Today’s supermarkets are relatively interchangeable, but Parry believes future-focused stores have a lot to play for. In the episode, he describes the innovative way a Korean supermarket blended shopping with commuting.

But the big wins, says Parry, may be in ethical and sustainable shopping. “People want to make more ethical choices, but they don’t know how. If they can shop with a supermarket that helps them make those decisions, it gives the retailer an edge over competitors.”

Are checkout operators history?

It started with our suspicious then suddenly enthusiastic acceptance of self-checkout, which morphed into ‘frictionless stores’ like Amazon Go, where registered customers walk out the door with their goods. Will we see the end of the supermarket workforce as we know it?

Kaspersky Security researcher David Emm has a new angle on the technological unemployment debate: How sure are we that processes replacing humans are secure?

Emm mentions research that found much personal e-commerce information selling on the dark web for peanuts: 1 US dollar or less. “The retailers’ responsibilities are to make sure they’re only holding data they need, they have consent to do anything with it and they hold it securely.”

Digital lettuce-squeezing

While the challenges of validating ethical claims shouldn’t be sniffed at, when it comes to replicating the experience of squeezing a lettuce or tomato for freshness, the digital space has its work cut out.

Italian architect, engineer and director of MIT’s Senseable City Lab research group Carlo Ratti believes nothing less than enjoyment will be at the heart of future shopping experiences. Cutting-edge supermarkets are zeroing in on the stories people associate with their food and shopping experience.

“During lockdown the supermarket was one of the few places you could go and be around other people. If you need toilet paper, say “Alexa, get new toilet paper,” and it will be delivered the next day. But for things with an experiential social component, the supermarket has an important role.”

Ratti believes the advantages of living in towns and cities depend on it too. He goes into detail in the podcast, and his reasons might come as a surprise.

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