retail news in context, analysis with attitude

The Wall Street Journal had a piece the other day about the tensions that are growing at a number of supermarkets when actual customers bump - sometimes literally - into people who are picking for customers who have ordered online.

This has especially been true at Amazon-owned Whole Foods, which can be "flooded with what the company calls Prime Now shoppers, under pressure to accurately fill grocery orders for customers to arrive in as little as an hour. As these hired shoppers dash through aisles and bang carts into shelves of quinoa, there is less room for the niceties that many customers felt justified the chain’s 'whole paycheck' reputation for high prices.

But the collision in priorities also is taking place at retailers such as Kroger and Albertsons and others, which often have made deals with third-part delivery companies such as Instacart to pick and deliver online orders. "As a result," the story says, "a legion of gig-economy shoppers has flooded U.S. supermarkets, scouring shelves for goods customers have ordered online. That is causing consternation in aisle three."

The Journal writes that "Amazon is trying to keep the Prime Now pickers out of customers’ way. A Whole Foods in a Milwaukee suburb earlier this year closed its juice bar to make room for an Amazon delivery station, employees said. Workers that once made smoothies now chop watermelon for sale in the store in the backroom.

"At another Whole Foods, a coffee bar was razed to make room for an area for the Prime Now shoppers to put their bags. One employee at a Whole Foods in Minnesota said managers placed signs in the storage area reminding Prime Now shoppers to walk on the right side of the corridor to tamp down congestion."
KC's View:
This is a tough one, and a really good argument for so-called dark stores that can serve online shoppers without impeding the forward movement of bricks-and-mortar customers who actually come to the store.

It also is a good argument for a redesigned shopping experience, and new stores that do not replicate the fresh-food-on-the-perimeter-with-groceries-in-the-aisles legacy model familiar to just about everybody. Most of the new and redesigned stores I go to seem to be making infrastructural changes around the edges, as opposed to rethinking the entire store with new shopping patterns in mind.

I don't mean to put too much emphasis on the new stores that Amazon is said to be preparing to open laster this year, but I'd be shocked if they did not address these issues in some sense. And that may tell us something about one path that retailing could take to a different future.