Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

With their high volume foot traffic, grocery stores are ideal labs to test bold ideas meant to save brick and mortar retail.

China's Alibaba is leading the way. In its Hema supermarkets shoppers can choose groceries in store, then get them delivered, or they can order online, then drive over to pick up.

  • In the U.S., Kroger has partnered with Microsoft to roll out grocery stores with LED shelves that reflect sale prices in real time and sensors that track which shelves need to be restocked.
  • Grocery logistics is a new business. The Kroger-Microsoft prototype also allows the stores to accept and quickly fulfill online orders. The partners plan to monetize by selling the tech to other retailers.

Be smart: The dystopian human-less grocery store of the future isn't coming soon — it's just too creepy.

"There will definitely be skepticism around it. It feels a little like big brother. Are they going to be monitoring me in the store?," says Barbara Denham, a senior economist at Reis, a commercial real estate analytics firm owned by Moody's.

Special report: The future of retail

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