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The grocery store is perhaps the most visible place to see the ripple effects of technological change on consumers, businesses, and American workers.
This is an insight from my colleague Sapna Maheshwari, who recently wrote about the ways in which pandemic-related changes in food shopping are making grocery stores more like Amazon warehouses.
We talked about the turmoil of a relatively small percentage of Americans who skip the supermarket to order online, and how stores and their workers are navigating the unknown future of groceries.
Shira: What’s New in Americans grocery shopping, and what does this mean for stores?
Sapna: The biggest change is that many more people started ordering groceries online during the pandemic to drop off at the stores or deliver at home. Buy online fast growing, but it’s still not great. People in the industry have told me that it is now less than 10 percent of the groceries.
Even the relatively small change is the biggest upheaval in the industry in years, and a challenge. For every order we pick up or drop off at the store, someone personally makes groceries for us. Grocery stores usually do not have much financial wrapping space. The industry standard is about $ 5 in profit if you buy $ 100 groceries.
How do grocery vendors try to do this?
The most important way is to try anything to make in-store workers more efficient at putting together grocery orders to keep costs down. One driver told me that every second counts.
Some stores use handheld devices that guide workers to the fastest route through the store to the 20 items on a buyer list. Some food packaging has changed so that a worker does not spend time weighing a pound of apples; instead, she can just grab a pre-made bag of apples.
It sounds like an Amazon warehouse or other e-commerce distribution center.
That’s right. Grocers are in this awkward phase where they do not know how future generations want to buy. Grocery stores therefore try to do double duties as places for personal shopping and online orders, such as an Amazon warehouse.
One difference is that most people do not see what is happening in an e-commerce center. The changes in the grocery store industry and jobs take place when we push our shopping carts around. This is such a clear example of how technology is changing our lives in one of the most common places in America and for a large workforce.
Good point. And how do store workers feel about the changes in their work?
It varies. I spoke to someone who likes to go through the stimulation and physical activity of a store to put together grocery orders.
I also talked to employees who felt that their work was guided by automated systems and measured by how quickly they compiled orders. One worker told me about the fear of bamboo spears. They are often close to meat or seafood benches, which may make sense for a person who wants to make kebabs. But it is less efficient for a store worker to find among their dozens of items per hour.
Is this tension temporary for shops and workers? If most people start shopping online instead of in person, can they then focus on making the pickup and delivery of groceries better for everyone involved?
I do not know. The Kroger supermarket chain made headlines for invest in large automated warehouses with robots that, according to the company, will eventually do a lot of work to put together grocery orders. Other companies test mini warehouses connected to shops which is exclusively designed to compile online orders.
Most grocery stores can’t spend what Walmart or Amazon do to invest in new technologies. And some of the technology that promises to help grocers or store workers pick up and pack the order of online orders can be a swine flu. There may not be an ideal future for buyers, supermarkets and grocery workers.
Before we go …
Technology and scientific research have united the Senate: A bill to spend $ 250 billion to encourage breakthroughs in new technologies could easily be passed in the Senate, writes my colleague Catie Edmondson. (It’s more complicated in the House.) Americans and American politicians usually dislike spending taxpayer money to promote private industries, but I wrote earlier this year about how competition with China has changed a lot. There’s more on this on ‘The Daily’.
What’s new and potentially useful in your latest phone software: My colleague Brian X. Chen goes through some of the updated features in the operating systems for iPhones and Android phones. It includes automatic iPhone messaging to tell people that you’re texting too, and more clarity about Androids when apps access your phone’s camera or use your location.
They are stressed to entertain us: My colleague Taylor Lorenz writes that the long-standing problem of burnout among people who find fame online is now reaching the young stars of TikTok. She chatted with people who knew about the make-up of building an audience online and was still amazed that they struggled with the demands of constantly creating fresh material.
Hugs on this
You must read it series of tweets of a woman who tried to help her father get a job at Costco. There are messages with walleye and back channels with a Costco manager. I will not spoil the end.
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