The coronavirus pandemic changed the way a lot of people shop for apparel, houseware, and even food. Early on during the outbreak -- and during periods of rising cases -- many people were scared to enter a grocery store. Instead, they took to ordering groceries online and retrieving their purchases curbside or having them delivered to their homes.
Now that things have improved on the pandemic front and coronavirus vaccines are making a lot more people comfortable with the idea of shopping in stores, we could see a shift back toward in-person supermarket shopping. But some stores may look a little different -- in a positive way.
Shoppers, gear up for smart carts
Most supermarkets have yet to invest in smart shopping carts, but some, like Kroger, are already testing them out. Smart carts are designed to scan and keep track of purchases using sensors, cameras, and other technology. And they can benefit customers in several ways.
First, they're extremely convenient. Rather than have to hunt down a store associate for a price check or find a price check kiosk, customers can simply scan unmarked or ambiguously marked grocery items to see how much they cost. Furthermore, smart carts often eliminate the need to wait in line in a checkout aisle. Rather, these carts are equipped to either accept credit card payments or charge food purchases to users' accounts.
Smart carts are also great for social distancing. Customers who use these carts can avoid having to get close to other shoppers while waiting to pay for their goods. And, they can even lead to better budgeting by giving customers a financial tally of their purchases as they wander the aisles.
Will smart carts take over?
Of course, smart carts aren't inexpensive to implement, and so they're unlikely to become the norm anytime soon. But in time, supermarkets may choose to adopt these grocery carts in an effort to draw in consumers.
Consumers who purchase groceries online are less likely to fall victim to impulse buys than those who shop in stores and see seasonal or promotional items on display in front of them. As such, it often works to supermarkets' advantage to have people visit them in person. Smart carts could, along with coronavirus vaccines, get consumers a lot more comfortable with the idea of in-person shopping -- especially if they're able to mimic the convenience of ordering food online.
A positive shift for real estate investors
While many people are now used to online food shopping, there are drawbacks involved -- getting stuck with produce that isn't the freshest or having lackluster items put in as substitutions. If smart carts really take off, it could help supermarkets thrive, and that would in turn be a great thing for real estate investors.
Grocery stores commonly serve as anchor tenants for shopping centers. Giving customers a reason to keep frequenting them only works to real estate investors' advantage, especially at a time when the future of retail is dicey and shopping centers need all of the paying tenants they can get.