The Future of Big Box Stores?

I had an interesting experience this morning. It started last night.

I needed a tool. I need it quickly and Amazon.com is no longer doing the two day delivery thing. I decided to see if our local Lowe’s had what I needed. They did, but the web site warned that stock on this item is low and I should purchase quickly. I was going to go to Lowe’s the following morning but was concerned that I’d get there and find that tool had sold out before I got there. This has happened to me before. Whether they actually sold out or the web site lied to me about how many were on hand is hard to say. Computers are not as infallible as some like to say. Not as long as people run them.

I decided to secure my tool by ordering it on-line for store pick-up in the morning. The web site sent me an e-mail saying the tool will be available for pick-up from the pick-up lockers just inside the main entry, and gave me a bar code to use in collecting my purchase. That’s something new! I printed out the page.

Lowe’s claims that this form of store pick-up reduces interpersonal contact, and so is safer for everyone in this age of pandemic.

Yeah, whatever.

Armed with my print-out I drove into town, parked in the Lowe’s lot and went inside. Sure enough, there was a bank of lockers of various sizes and shapes.

The terminal said to scan my bar code and the locker containing my items will pop open. It wasn’t quite that simple. Being a newbie I didn’t know the secret hand gesture that is required to get the terminals attention. But once I was indoctrinated a door popped open and there sat my tool.

Being the weirdo that I am, this got my mind to running as I rode the interstate home. What would be the logical evolution of this technology if pursued?

I saw big box stores replacing almost all of the store employees with picker robots like Amazon.com uses to manage their warehouses.

A company would only need a few Bot Wranglers to oversee things and throw the power switch if the bots go crazy and start busting the place up.

Customers order on-line with their smart glasses (because computers and even phones are a thing of the past by then), bots run around collecting the items and stashing them in a locker, then the system sends the customer the pick-up code. Large orders, like building materials or appliances, would be in a large locker on a robotic sled that will follow you to your truck so you can transfer the load (it might even help), then return to the store.

Of course the pick-up terminal will be peppered with cameras and maybe a taser cannon to prevent vandals or looters from damaging the lockers.

I can see all the big box stores: Wal-Mart, Sam’s Club, Target, Home Depot, Lowe’s, etc going this route. This will be a major bummer for those who enjoy spending hours and hours shopping for stuff they didn’t know they needed. But I guess we’ll always have malls for that.

So, what do you think: possible? Probable? Or totally outlandish?

Author: Doug

I've been a wordsmith since the 1970s. Mostly for print magazine and newspapers, but I do have a few books, and now gazillions of web site articles.

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