- A new patent from Walmart would allow consumers to view real images of their groceries — rather than stock images — before purchasing online, CB Insights reported.
- Through the system, called the "Fresh Online Experience" (FOE), a customer orders an item based on a stock photo. A store associate then scans the exact item in Walmart's inventory, the image is sent to the customer, and the customer can accept or reject the particular item.
- The systems places an "edible watermark" on the item selected by the consumer before the goods are delivered.
Although e-commerce has skyrocketed in recent years, many consumers have been reluctant to buy their food and groceries online, particularly because they want to see, feel and smell produce before buying it.
A study from Nielsen last year found more than half of customers worldwide have purchased clothes, books and music online. In comparison, less than a quarter of consumers have bought packaged or fresh groceries online.
That figure, however, is expected to rise. Nielsen predicts that in 10 years, 60% of U.S. households will buy food online.
With this consumer shift, traditional brick-and-mortar stores have been forced to adjust their models.
Many managers have hopped on the cold chain, investing in temperature-controlled warehouses and delivery trucks. Short-time deliveries are also critical for perishable goods. Despite these changes, food safety concerns continue to plague deliveries of fresh meat and seafood.
In addition to challenges with fresh food, brick-and-mortar stores have also had to compete with innovators already in the digital space, namely Amazon.
Walmart's patent is just the latest example of the store realizing the necessity to compete with Amazon.
Last fall, Walmart acquired Parcel, a same-day last-mile delivery company that allowed it to compete with Amazon Prime's two-day delivery service. The corporation also partnered with Deliv, as a way of countering Amazon Key. Both services allow deliveries directly into a customers' home or even refrigerator.
Walmart's patent has the potential to break down one of the biggest barriers to consumers buying fresh groceries online. This time, the supermarket giant may have beaten Amazon to the punch.