New Zealand supermarkets have come a long way since first introducing consumers to barcodes back in 1981. Now with seven out of ten millennials demanding more in-store technology and 69 percent claiming that they would be more likely to shop with a retailer that was enhancing the shopping experience with innovative tech, the importance of adopting different technological applications has never been more crucial.

Millennials have been blamed for the dramatic change that supermarkets have had to undergo in recent years, with their shopping routines differing the most from previous generations. New Zealand supermarkets, Countdown and Foodstuffs have witnessed this change over recent years and have had to adapt in order to appeal to this new consumer generation.

“The grocery industry is constantly changing, and like all parts of our lives, technology has a huge influence in driving retail innovation. We’re always looking at how technology can improve aspects of our customer experience, from simple things like making ID age checks more automated or improving self-checkout machines to more complex innovation like our tailored offers and online shopping experience,” said a spokesperson from Countdown.

Ashley Colyer, acting chief information officer, Foodstuffs North Island spoke about how technology has changed the grocery industry. “Technology has defined the supermarket experience ever since the first barcode scanners arrived and revolutionised the checkout, making shopping quicker. Fast-forward to today and new technologies are designed, developed and deployed to stores every year with a specific focus on offering shoppers a suite of time-saving options.”

Foodstuffs is always aiming to improve the customer experience with the help of technology. New World Island Bay recently fitted out ten of its trolleys with GPS tracking devices which allow tracking within a 30cm accuracy. The carts will help Foodstuffs to understand consumer shopping patterns better. “Just last month, Foodstuffs North Island kicked off a trolley tracking trial at New World Island Bay in Wellington using world-leading radio technology called ultra-wideband. Ten trolleys at the store have devices attached to them that will anonymously track how shoppers use the trolleys, including how it moves, how long it spends at various stops and more,” added Colyer.

Check out free supermarkets have also gained traction this year with Amazon Go leading the way overseas. “Select PAK'nSAVE stores have SHOP'nGO hand-held scanners, which enable customers to shop and scan items as they go, decreasing checkout times. Four Square Ellerslie is also trialling five Smartcarts, which eliminate the need for barcode scanning, checkouts and queueing. We are always exploring more opportunities for an improved customer experience in-store,” she added.

Technology can also be adopted behind the scenes to increase productivity and improve the employee experience. Countdown has implemented technology to improve the stores' distribution systems. “While there are now much more intuitive and efficient ordering systems, one of the exciting technology changes that we have recently introduced is installing eyelid monitoring in more than 50 of our contracted delivery trucks with a plan to roll it out across all trucks in the future,” said a spokesperson for the chain. The technology monitors driver distraction or fatigue such as when drivers show signs of sleepiness with the goal to improve employee wellbeing – “since we’ve installed this technology, we’re already seeing an improvement in driver awareness.”

Overseas the race to be the most technologically advanced grocery store is on. Walmart is leading the way with robots. The chain’s most recent purchase has been the 360 self-navigating floor scrubbers that keep Walmart’s floors squeaky clean.

While Kroger has become the largest reservoir of food purchase data in the US, this combined the store’s recent installation of cameras and infrared sensors will have them winning the race to improve customer efficiency and monitor foot traffic.

Third parties are also getting involved, creating applications that can be applied to supermarkets. Light Detection And Ranging of Laser Imaging Detection And Ranging (LIDAR) is something consumers can expect to see in the future. The technology allows users to add shopping lists or recipes to a supermarkets app. Cameras and sensors will then be able to track customers movements and provide prompts if the user has forgotten something on the list.

Electronic labels are one of the technological innovations millennials most want to see. Bluetooth technology embedded in electronic shelves could do everything from offering customer checklists for recipes to giving them directions to the next item they seek.

International management and technology consulting firm, Hitachi’s retail specialist, Pierson Broome said that the research was evident. “Retail technology, such as digital signage and real-time inventory availability systems, will directly affect where consumers will shop in the future. We’re seeing more retailers experiment with innovative technology and the ones who best capture its ability to enhance the customer experience will be most likely to satisfy the growing demand from younger generations. Retailers must seize the opportunity technology offers to gain their custom.”