Drive-Thru Supermarkets Coming Right Up

By Ben Hamill - September 05 2018

The concept of the drive-thru is about to be taken to the next level, and we are all invited along for the ride. Especially if we need to stop for milk, bread, and loo paper long the way. According to reports, a few companies as well as individuals are vying to see who will be responsible for the world’s first drive-thru supermarket. While a few establishments to have opened recently managed to get close to making the idea a reality, a fully functional venue has yet to materialize.

According to a Russian inventor, it is only a matter of time. Before it does happen, and that will no doubt pave the way to all sorts of drive-thru – perhaps even a casino for an altogether different way to play on the move. It would certainly be very different to playing online Roulette on a mobile device.

Amazon On the Way

International online retail giant Amazon is one of the key players in the push to give the world its first drive-in supermarkets. This is the latest in a long list of novel ways thought up by the retailer to try get its customers to spend more money, such as the plan to deliver goods using drones. With the opening of AmazonFresh Pickup stores in parts of the USA, as well as in the UK, Germany, and Japan, customers are not that far away from being able to drive their vehicles in stores. For the moment, however, they need to satisfy themselves with placing orders online, driving to the Pickup store, and waiting for a clerk to bring their paid-for and packaged groceries to their vehicles.

Russian Inventor Patents Idea

Russian inventor Semenov Dahir Kurmanbievich is not prepared to wait for Amazon to perfect the idea. Earlier this year, he patented an idea for a true drive-thru establishment. According to Kurmanbievich, his idea is based on a system of lanes, parking bays, and shelves that cascade. He said that automated billboards would indicate available bays to arriving customers, who then proceed to the bay. They can then choose their groceries from those on vertical shelves that operate using elevator and conveyor belt-style mechanics. Each slot on the shelves will be prepacked with various items by store staff, who will send the items to the shelves using the conveyor belts. Customers can change the shelves in front of them using the elevator mechanism at their own pace.

When customers select items, they put them on another belt, which sends those items to a waiting cashier, who will ring them up and pack them in grocery bags. When the customer has made their final choice, they need simply proceed to the cashier, pay, and collect their goods before leaving. Reports indicate that, while this idea is the brainchild of an inventor based in Russia, it looks like tech-obsessed Dubai might be where he sees it realised. Kurmanbievich thinks customers and retailers will benefit from the plan. He said that the incentive for retails were lowered operating expenses, as well as an improved service experience for shoppers. Retailers will save time and money on merchandising and shop floor maintenance, while customers can enjoy streamlined grocery shopping with as little hassle as possible. Kurmanbievich said this is something that will be of benefit to those whose health makes traditional shopping difficult.

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An Old Concept Refreshed

As space age as drive-thru supermarkets might seem, consumers have enjoyed the convenience the concept offers since 1947. It was in that year that Red’s Giant Hamburg opened on Route 66, and introduced the world’s first food service based on it. It gained further impetus in 1951, when the Jack In the Box chain of restaurants launched. It shot to fame, turned the concept into a nationwide one that spread to other countries. 

Possible Ill Social Effects

Despite Kurmanbievich’s assurances that drive-thru supermarkets will benefit all concerned, it remains to be seen if they really will be that helpful. For starters, greater automation means fewer human workers are required, and that can only mean job losses. Another potential issue is tech’s contribution to increased feelings of isolation, loneliness, and depression in those who enjoy less frequent human contact because of it. As much as surly store staff and annoying other shoppers are among the less redeemable aspects of shopping, it may be those very aspects that determine the success of drive-thru supermarkets.