A Product Manager Goes to the Grocery Store

For me, being a product manager doesn't stop on the weekends. Every time I'm out and about doing everyday things, I am still thinking about end-to-end user experience and why things were built the way they were.

For example, I think wayyyy too much about how to improve the state of our current grocery stores. This user experience could be hugely improved with technology that is currently available.

The Product: The Grocery Store Experience

Can we please talk about the grocery store? Why am I shopping for groceries exactly like my grandmother did 50 years ago?

The Problems:

  • It's crowded. I go grocery shopping at peak times... because I have a 9-5 job... and sometimes I think a war over the last remaining organic free-range chicken may break out at any moment.
  • I can't find anything. Why must I engage in a treasure hunt among 24 disorganized aisles for items on my list?
  • Availability. Is there a reason that there are never any goddam lemons, precisely at the time when I am looking to procure some lemons?
  • I loathe waiting in line. Why, Dear God, is the line always so effing long? I really, really don't want to spend half my Saturday waiting in a grocery store line.
  • Self-checkout is for masochists. Just thinking about self-checkout throws me into a fit of anxiety. It doesn't work. I inevitably always need someone to correct some error it spits out, which completely defeats self-checkout's intended purpose.
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The Solution(s): 

I'm pretty sure grocery establishments do not employ product managers, which is pretty obvious given the dismal user experience. This experience literally hasn't been improved upon during my lifetime, with the exception of self-checkout, which actually made it worse.

I'm going to throw out some acutely improved experiences for grocery store execs to consider. (Are you listening Amazon? I know you just bought Whole Foods...)

Remarkably Improved Grocery Store Experience #1

I recently saw a woman at Target scanning items for her wedding registry. The UX is simple: You show up, Target gives you one of those scanners, and you walk around the store scanning items you like. It's all uploaded automatically to your account.

Why can't we use this technology for grocery stores? The user experience would look something like this: 

  • As I enter the grocery store, I'm handed a scanner. It syncs to my (already existing) account either through an app, or a quick check-in process (think self check-in machine at the airport). 
  • As I walk through the grocery store, I don't physically pick up items and put them in my cart. Rather, I can walk through aisles and see sample items (and read their labels, etc.), but rather than picking items up that I want, I scan them.
  • Behind the scenes, robots are auto-picking my items on the fly, which are delivered to me upon exit. 
  • Because the scanner is synced with my account upon arrival, and because the auto-picking robots determine the items I actually receive (hence, I can't steal), I don't have to wait in line to pay or check my receipt. I just get my basket of items, and leave.

All of this technology currently exists to make this experience happen.


Remarkably Improved Grocery Store Experience #2

It's Saturday and I have a grocery list. Rather than going to World-War-Groceries-parking-lot, fighting through a mob of screaming children with a cart whose wheel-technology hasn't been improved since 1956, and waiting in line for 4 hours, here's what my new experience looks like. 

  • I open my Grocery Store app ahead of time and add this week's grocery list. (I can even copy last week's list or choose among other past lists if I'm feeling lazy.)
  • I choose a time slot for when I'm going to go to the store to pick up my basket of goodies.
  • Behind the scenes either a robot or a human packs up my basket with my list of items.
  • When I arrive at the grocery store, my basket is waiting (perhaps with the exception of frozen items). If I want to indulge in some impulse buys, I can still add those to my basket while I'm in the store.
  • My credit card is already attached to my account, so much like Uber, I don't have to wait in line or exchange any form of payment while I'm actually IN the store.

Sound better?

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Remarkably Improved Grocery Store Experience #3

Grocery delivery has been a thing for years, and yet there haven't been any super successful attempts to create a sustainable, affordable grocery-delivery model. 

As I see it, there are two big problems with the grocery delivery model:

  1. It's only for those that can plan ahead - You can't have a 'last minute cooking baking party' if you have to set up Amazon to deliver your groceries 2 days ahead of time.
  2. It's prohibitively expensive for most.

However, I do think this model will gain a lot of traction once drones become omnipresent and affordable. Because it's just not economical to have humans delivering groceries, when the margins are already so slim.


Other Problems in Grocery Stores that Could be Easily Fixed

  • Purchase data - what the hell are grocery stores doing with this? Obviously not much, since there are never any f**king lemons are precisely the exact time when I'm actually looking to procure some lemons.
  • Grocery carts - as mentioned above, these things seriously suck and I don't think they've changed since the 1950s. is there no one interested in engineering a grocery cart whose wheel actually work? And people put their children in these death traps.
  • Grocery carts - I know, I already talked about these. But can we make them self-driving, please? I know. I'm really lazy with the cart pushing.

So there you have it. 

This is what a product manager thinks about when she goes to the grocery store.