The Wall Street Journal has a story that looks inside "a nondescript warehouse" in Union, New Jersey, where, every day, "tens of thousands of bulk household items move through the Boxed.com fulfillment center, destined for the online retailer’s customers along the Northeast corridor.
"Incoming orders get assigned to large plastic bins that travel along an automated system of nearly 2 miles of conveyors. Workers stationed along the winding route drop each item—from paper towels to peanut butter—into the bins as they pass by. When the order is complete, packers arrange the items in a box, tape it shut and set it on another conveyor headed for a waiting delivery truck."
This, Journal suggests, reflects a dawning urban reality - "shopping as infrastructure," with a "growing network of e-commerce sites, warehouses and delivery services" that redefine how shoppers acquire products.
"Warehouses like these are becoming a way of life for many urbanites. Instead of spending the afternoon choosing items off store shelves and standing in a checkout line, city dwellers of the future will tap a few buttons on hand-held devices and a part-human, part-machine warehouse crew in a nearby industrial district will handle the transaction from start to finish. The weekly shopping is done in 10 minutes, and the shopper never has to leave the house."
You can read the entire story here.
While the story refers specifically to urbanites, I tend to believe that over time we're going to see more and more people outside urban centers are going to look for these kinds of options. Physical stores that are going to compete simply are going to have to find new and evolving ways to be compelling, and may have to rethink their broader assumptions about how to do business.
I also think that one of the things we are likely to see down the line is these kinds of formats potentially redefining the relationship between retailers and suppliers, as well as consumers and suppliers. Again, old assumptions may not apply.