Walmart recently filed for a patent on a system that would allow customers to order fresh produce and other food items and see in 3-D what they're getting beforehand. According to CB Insights, the images, selected by in-store personnel, would be viewed by customers before they complete their purchase.
This proposed system would use "three-dimensional scanning" to provide visuals of the in-store items to online shoppers, creating what the patent is calling a "Fresh Online Experience," CB Insights reported.
Customers would be able to accept or reject the item after looking at images. Once reaching the image limit, a customer would need to choose one of the images and finalize the order. The item would then be given an "edible watermark" and the order set for pickup or delivery. Some steps in the process could end up being automated, according to the patent application.
Walmart has filed for numerous patents, some of them pretty fanciful. One application last summer involved a floating warehouse that would release drones to deliver orders to customers, according to Bloomberg. The company noted that the ship would fly between 500 and 1,000 feet above the ground, contain multiple launching bays and possibly be controlled remotely.
This latest patent idea seems designed to respond to a problem online grocery purchasers share and which limits the number of people who might buy food items that way: an inability to see what they're getting. Looking at 3-D scanned images would help, but it would require sufficient trust and quality follow-up service to guarantee that what a shopper sees, that shopper will get.
The retail giant is working diligently these days to blur the lines between in-store and online shopping, with self-serve grocery pickup kiosks at its fueling stations and discounts for customers picking up online purchases in the store. But another patent idea Walmart has come up with is really off the charts. This is the notion of bringing the store into a customer's home.
According to Brick Meets Click, Walmart would ship products to a customer's home and they would remain there until the customer wanted to buy them — unless there was a prior arrangement to receive items on a set schedule. The products would remain the property of Walmart or another retailer or distributor until the consumer completed a purchase.
It's not difficult to see the benefits to Walmart — no more brick-and-mortar stores, fewer employees and automated ordering and receiving. For the customer, though, while the system sounds convenient, it also sounds potentially intrusive. Also, some people like to stroll around a store and shop, look items over and savor the in-person experience. This type of arrangement would relegate most, if not all, of that factor to history.
In today's Brave New World of food and grocery, it's hard to tell how much of this is a serious plan and how much is Walmart trying to get and stay ahead of its competitors and forge a new retail reality. One thing is for sure: Online shopping continues to expand. Total online grocery sales are growing at 25% per year, according to the latest "Ecommerce Supermarket Scorecard Report" from consulting firm Brick Meets Click, reports Supermarket News. The average number of e-commerce orders per store, meanwhile, is up 20%.
And for those retailers that have offered e-commerce for more than four years — such as Walmart and Kroger — they see 5.2% more orders online compared to 3.4% for other retailers that offer the service. Walmart and Kroger have raced ahead to claim shoppers and stand to handsomely profit in the long run by solidifying loyalty and new business. Whether the 3-D product viewing experience or the in-home storeless shopping concept will see the light of day and add to the retail giant's success is another question.