Forecasted to be valued at $100 billion by 2025, online grocery shopping is becoming a regular trend in the consumer market, making popular grocery chains like Walmart, Kroger and Whole Foods/Amazon invest in e-commerce grocery options. This trend is being challenged by a California-based company that is launching their prototype of a self-driving grocery store called “Robomart” which hopes outdo the appeal of e-commerce grocery shopping.
Robomart founder Ali Ahmed will be launching the first prototype of his fully automatic, on-demand, self-driving mini-grocery stores at CES, Las Vegas on Monday. Ahmed plans to partner with retailers in delivering fresh grocery items with his affordable and convenient home grocery service. Consumers can have access to Robomart by just tapping a button which calls the robotic store right to their door-step so that they may purchase fresh produce at their convenience with the lowest fees because there will be no delivery cost for the driverless vehicle. Robomart has plans on piloting the machines by late summer 2018.
“We’re in the process of getting our Autonomous Vehicle Testing Permit and License from the Department of Motor Vehicles in California so that we can deploy fully driverless vehicles on public roads in California,” Ahmed told Retail Leader.
Ahmed hopes to tap into two major trends with his new grocery innovation. According to the Robomart founder, fresh produce accounts for a significant portion of sales for grocery retailers yet only five percent of those sales have moved online. Robomart allows consumers to purchase fresh produce just like they would at the store but with added convenience. Additionally, research conducted by Ahmed’s company shows that 85 percent of women aged between 26 and 44 do not purchase produce online because of high delivery costs. About 65 percent of these women agreed that they would order Robomart once a week or more.
Once fully approved, the Robomart automobile will provide shoppers with 50 to 100 fresh grocery items inside its 70-cubic foot refrigerated space. Retailers have the opportunity to select what type of merchandise their Robomart will carry. The automated vehicle also has an 80 mile range but travels at only 25 miles per hour.
“We envision separate Robomarts for each major fresh category but assortment will be up to our retail customer,” Ahmed said. “Consumers will register on their retailer’s app and save their details including payment information. After requesting a Robomart they then have a full checkout free experience when shopping. They simply unlock the doors, take what they need, and then lock the doors and send it on its way.”
Robomart tracks what customers are selecting in the vehicle with its “grab and go” technology which is a check-out free experience for shoppers. The customers will then receive a printed receipt on behalf of the retailer involved with the Robomart machine.
“We compete against sidewalk delivery robots. Our robots are much larger, house a bigger selection, operate on roads not sidewalks and offer an entire checkout-free, in-person shopping experience rather than just being a delivery vehicle,” Ahmed said. “We see ourselves as the ‘Boeing’ for this new industry we are pioneering of fully autonomous, self-driving stores.”
Currently, Robomart is working on scalability with their machines. They are looking for ways to prevent shoplifting because consumers have access to the entire selection of products in the mobile-store. They are also looking at technical procedures like restocking and customer reach. Other disadvantages include selection because of limited space (consumers will only have a handful of each product to select from) and potential lengthy wait times for the vehicle to arrive at homes. Robomart’s slow driving speed also brings to question the number of vehicles needed on the roads for optimal service.
Once fully prepared, Robomart might give e-commerce grocery stores a run for their money. From the research conducted by the company, the automated grocery store could be a great success for the fresh produce industry.