Trend Watch: Autonomous ‘Grocerants’ on College Campuses

Published on : 6/17/22
  • What if you could shop in a truly autonomous environment? Imagine the convenience of being able to enter a store at any time of day or night, browse a wide array of products, select your items and leave without ever having to stand in a cashier line or even take out your wallet. 

    Although this may seem like a futuristic dream, it is already a reality at a few college campuses. Through a partnership with AiFi, Sodexo recently introduced eat> NOW, a fully autonomous shopping experience in which there are no queue lines or physical checkout processes. University of Denver rolled out the unique concept in April 2022 and is seeing great results from increased sales to lower food costs and labor savings. 

    Sodexo’s eat> NOW reinvents the traditional on-campus C-store notion by expanding concepts to include restaurant-style aesthetics and offerings. This shift toward a more flexible and creative approach aligns with consumers’ shifting attitudes and behaviors surrounding delivery-based services.

    Eat> NOW merges the convenience and efficiency of online shopping with a brick and mortar, seamless and contact-free experience.

    Guests start by scanning a QR code within a mobile app to enter the eat> NOW store. As guests shop at this upscale retail/grocerant hybrid, cameras placed throughout the location track the items they choose and add them to a virtual cart. When the guest exits eat> NOW, the items are charged to the payment method on file within the app. Guests receive a detailed receipt on their smartphone within moments of exiting. 

    Although they’re the most tech-savvy generation yet, 58% of Gen Z still prefer shopping in a brick-and-mortar store. However, these young consumers seek unique retail options, with 56% of Gen Z stating they want fun store experiences that keep them from getting bored. Eat> NOW blends cutting-edge technology with a familiar physical shopping experience to create a fun, novel option, perfectly aligned with students’ preferences.  

    The careful layout of this on-trend concept creates intuitive, seamless consumer experiences while optimizing convenience and expanding categories to include hyper-local products, meats, organics, class supplies, over-the-counter pharmaceuticals and household goods on campus. A simple yet elegant design creates a welcoming atmosphere that encourages guests to return, and a flexible layout makes it easy to execute a dynamic product mix strategy. Students love the upscale vibe, unrivaled convenience and mix of unique products.