In the course of the coronavirus pandemic, a lot of consumers started buying groceries online and having them delivered to their homes or picking them up curbside. Earlier on in the crisis, online grocery shopping meant not having to take on the health risks of entering a physical store when COVID-19 cases were climbing. And now that coronavirus vaccines are widely available, many consumers might continue to order groceries online, not for health reasons but for the convenience factor alone.
But now, Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) is taking steps to make in-store grocery shopping as convenient as possible. And if more supermarket chains follow its lead, it could change the layout of grocery stores on a national level.
Bye bye, cashiers
Amazon will be introducing its Just Walk Out technology at its newest Amazon Fresh store in Bellevue, Washington. That setup will allow customers to pay for their groceries without having to wait on a checkout line.
To use the Just Walk Out option, customers will need to scan a QR code from their Amazon apps, use palm scanners, or insert a payment card linked to an existing Amazon account. In fact, all it takes is an Amazon account to buy groceries without having to wait for a cashier.
Now, this isn't the first time Amazon is allowing customers to skip the checkout line. Its smaller grocery stores already offer a cashier-less option. But it is the first time this system is being implemented in a larger store: The Bellevue Amazon Fresh location is 25,000 square feet.
Changing the face of grocery stores?
If Amazon's Just Walk Out technology really takes off and becomes viable for full-sized supermarkets, other grocery store chains may seek to follow its lead. And that could, in turn, change the face of supermarket layouts.
Eliminating checkout lines could allow supermarkets to downsize their space. Or, they can put that space to good use by opening in-store cafes or other specialty kiosks.
The latter could be pivotal in an age when customers are increasingly moving away from in-store shopping in general. By making the in-person shopping experience easier and more convenient, supermarkets can draw customers back in coming out of the pandemic. And by opening up the space checkout lines would normally occupy, supermarkets could potentially make grocery store visits more social. Shoppers can meet for a cup of coffee or pastry before loading their shopping carts with essentials and heading on their way.
From a real estate investing perspective, eliminating checkout lines could help supermarkets thrive, and that could help guarantee their position as shopping center anchors. While supermarkets are essential stores and aren't in particular danger of shuttering on a widespread basis, if customers continue to shop for groceries online, it could result in some level of closures. But by adapting and becoming even more customer-friendly, grocery stores can ensure their own staying power -- and give investors in shopping centers one less thing to worry about.