Three ‘store of the future’ formats you can visit today

The technology-enabled “store of the future” is developing now, in several different directions. 

The brick-and-mortar store is always evolving. Customer needs constantly change and technology advancements continue blurring the lines between channels. The rapid shift to digital commerce caused by COVID-19 is accelerating the transformation of traditional physical retailing into the “store of the future.”

Here are three store of the future concepts that customers don’t have to wait to experience.

21st-century vending machine

Vending machines have been around since they were used to dispense postage stamps in 1850s Britain. But the last few years have seen the development of omnichannel vending machines that function as automated mini-stores.

Hurried airport travelers are a natural target customer for this store model. Travel retailer Hudson is rolling out an automated airport store concept it envisions as a miniature shopping mall. Interactive touchscreens showcase merchandise images and provide product information, while personalized augmented reality (AR) technology provides eyewear customers with a fully-immersive, virtual try-on experience.

In addition, several airports are deploying contactless shopping technology from Swyft Inc. Consumers can stand in front of robotic stores equipped with Swyft technology and use their mobile phone to complete their purchase.

It is also worth mentioning the eight-story automated “car vending machines” offered in at least 29 locations across the U.S. by online used auto retailer Carvana. The colorful, glowing glass structures stand between eight and 11 stories high and hold between 27 and 29 cars. Customers receive a commemorative, oversized Carvana coin to insert into the machine, activating the automated vending process, and then watch their vehicle descend.

Chipotle Digital Kitchen
Chipotle Digital Kitchen

Digital-only stores

Several quick-service food retailers have been experimenting with digital-only stores geared toward online and mobile orders. Taco Bell just opened its first digital-only U.S. location in Times Square, where customers can use one of 10 self-service digital menu kiosks or order ahead digitally. 

A separate entrance allows order-ahead customers to head directly to the pick-up area where they can enter their order number on a touchscreen and grab their meal from a designated cubby.

Meanwhile, Chipotle is piloting a store concept called “Chipotle Digital Kitchen,” which does not include a dining room or front service line. Instead, customers must order in advance via the Chipotle website, app, or third-party delivery partners, and pick up their food from a lobby.

Starbucks was a pioneer in digital-only stores, opening its first-ever Starbucks Pickup store in New York City’s Penn Plaza in late 2019. This location uses the mobile order & pay feature of the Starbucks app as the primary ordering and payment method for customers, and features a digital status board that tracks the progress of customer orders. 

The store comes to you

Another interesting future store concept comes from Northeast grocer Stop & Shop (an Ahold Delhaize USA banner), which has piloted driverless vehicles from Robomart that act as stores on wheels. Shoppers summon the Robomart vehicles with a smartphone app, head outside, unlock its doors, then personally select the grocery products they would like to purchase.

The vehicles’ RFID and computer vision technology automatically records what customers select to provide a checkout-free experience, and receipts are e-mailed within seconds. 

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