Grocery retailers in the U.S. are panicking. With Aldi and Lidl on one end of the spectrum and Amazon’s potential acquisition on the other, food retailers of all sizes dig into their war chests to combat what they see as venerable threats. Many are investing in new technologies with the hope that these tools can help them compete or add sizzle to retain or attract customers.

St. Louis based Schnucks, who operate almost 100 stores in five Midwestern states is starting a test with Tally – a robot that works the aisles at Schnucks grocery stores looking for items that are out of stock and checking on prices. Tally weighs about 30 pounds and stands at 38 inches tall and has sensors to avoid bumping into things like shoppers and carts. It scans the shelves and notifies the store personnel when quantities run low. We talk a lot about robots here at The Lempert Report – the good and the bad and while Tally is cute and will certainly make some headlines, there is little doubt in my mind that Tally might just freak out some shoppers, although it may also encourage kids to join mom on the shopping trip to entertain or even tease Tally.

Out of stocks is a major problem and point to significant losses for a supermarket. Using technology to solve the problem is a good idea, and can add profit to the bottom line. Tally can be just in one place in the store and by the time it identifies an out of stock the shopper may already be down another aisle. And I doubt Tally’s program will let it chase the shopper to say that the product is on the way.

The grocery industry has been touting beacons as the wave of the future,  with the promise to deliver more relevant messaging based on a customer’s location in the store, but without much success. It looks like it took an airport to show us the way.  London’s Gatwick Airport installed 2,000 beacons across its two terminals to enable a reliable ‘blue dot’ on indoor maps along with an augmented reality wayfinding tool, so passengers are shown directions in the camera view of their smartphone.

Just imagine the opportunities for supermarkets. Offering shoppers a foolproof tool to find products, get special offers, tie into their frequent shopper card and relieve congestion at the service departments by adding staff where needed. The applications are endless and tie the shopper retailer relationship. It’s time the folks that run our supermarkets become the “cool guys”.

When it comes to supermarkets, our SupermarketGuru Consumer Panel surveys continue to show decade after decade that one of the most important attributes of a grocery store is the human contact. Who can deny the importance of the fishmonger, butcher, chef and baker as they reach out and communicate with the shopper?

The blend of tech and human is what will make the difference. Even though there seem to be some tech glitches up at Amazon Go in Seattle, the concept is right. Eliminate the checkout and offer in-store culinarians making fresh salads, sandwiches and prepared foods. Hi-tech – hi-touch.

As US supermarkets move to the future, and a possible $15 an hour scenario at retail, the urge is to replace employees as quickly as possible. They need to take a breath and figure out where tech and robots can help – and where they can hurt.

Starting this issue, Phil Lempert, the SupermarketGuru®, will share his U.S. supermarket trends insights with SupermarketNews readers.





Phil can be reached at