Posted by: nickgerlich | April 7, 2008

Chilling E-Commerce

Online grocers have not fared very well in the US during the e-commerce explosion. Yes, there are some success stories, such as Peapod in Chicago and Fresh Direct in New York City, but note the trend there: These are both in highly urbanized areas, and engaging in anything in the city means wrestling with traffic, finding a parking spot, and/or hauling your groceries long distances. Delivery is a life-saver there.

By and large, though, consumers have not embraced online groceries, and for a variety of reasons. Some people want to inspect the goods in the store, while others want the freedom to make choices on impulse while strolling the aisles. Others still become confused with the thousands and thousands of items, and when presented in a 2-dimensional array, it can become overwhelming.

But what if someone raised the bar on grocery e-commerce and made it so simple that all you had to do is unpack the boxes?

Samsung RefrigeratorThat’s the plan behind Samsung’s “thinking fridge,” a revolutionary kitchen component that would take the thinking out of grocery shopping.

Once food manufacturers start adding RFID chips to their products, this will become a reality. While the fridge is still in development, and manufacturers are not completely yet on board, the future of our kitchens could very well include this high-tech Jetsonesque ice box that takes the work out of acquiring food.

Hunter-gatherers never had it so easy.

The new fridge will have a number of capabilities, starting with simply notifying users that certain products are running low (by texting the owner), as well as advanced programming capabilities that communicate via the internet with a selected grocer. The items would be on auto-replenish; once all the parameters are set, deliveries could occur on a predictable basis, or the shopper could arrange for in-store pick-up.

Of course, such techno-marvels do not mean we will never need to set foot in a grocery again. If the inlaws are coming, we may need to make a special trip to the store to buy groceries to meet special plans or needs.

All of this could lead to concerns over privacy. Let’s suppose your beer cans and bottles come pre-loaded with an RFID chip, and your fridge, sensing the ever-dwindling supplies, winds up re-ordering quite…um…frequently. Can you imagine if this information were to leak? A prospective employer might not like the fact you spend 10% of your grocery budget with Anheuser-Busch.

While I kind of like the prospects of this smart-fridge, I can’t help but think there may be times in which, despite those funny “Life Takes Visa” commercials, we may really just want to pay cash. In a store. The old-fashioned way.

Dr “Put That On Ice” Gerlich


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