Roughly twenty years ago online grocers were part of the great internet dot-com bubble with a host of companies promising to deliver groceries to your home affordably and conveniently. Venture capital poured into these companies which promised to leverage the wonders of technology to revolutionize the food retail industry. Several even had successful IPOs before the entire industry more or less went bankrupt and disappeared. Yet as clear as the lesson of this first attempted tech revolution in the food retailing sector was, firms have continued to make forays into that space, creating a stream of failures. Yet now traditional grocers are preparing to harness technology in new ways, ready to unleash a new, more likely to succeed, tech revolution in food retailing.
Technology has long been a crucial part of food retailing. Barcodes (UPC codes) were first applied at scale in supermarkets, as were scanners that are now used at checkout in all sorts of retail outlets. These technologies saved labor, lowered costs, and allowed for large improvements in inventory control, supply chain management, and even dynamic pricing. Food retailers know exactly what is on the shelves, what's on the way, and can adjust prices without having to relabel every box, can, or bottle. All this information is available at the store level and at headquarters.