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Life after COVID-19: Some grocery store changes may stick around

Grocery stores had to make changes when the pandemic hit. Some of those changes could be permanent.

HOUSTON — In our pandemic world, 90 percent of consumers say they’ve changed the way they shop, And when it comes to life after COVID, many of these changes to grocery stores may actually be permanent.

From the enhanced cleaning to the explosion of curbside pickup, grocery stores, like Kroger, quickly adapted to the pressure of the pandemic.

“What really changed is a lot more around safety," Kroger Houston President Joe Kelley said.

Kelley believes some things, like the cleaning efforts and new customer behaviors, could be here to stay.

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“They may keep those shopping habits. They may buy larger. They may eat home more often. They may find that’s been better for their family. We’ve heard that quite a bit," Kelley said.

And embracing the future, Kroger will also be adding smart carts – or ‘KroGo carts’ - so customers can checkout from their shopping cart.

“You go in there, you throw all of your items in the shopping cart. The shopping cart will pick up your items and show it on a digital list right on the screen in front of you," Co-founder of Caper Ahmed Beshry said.

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Caper, the company behind the smart cart, is hoping one day, they’ll be inside every grocery store across the country as they eye expanding into large markets like Texas.

But while the technology has been in the works for a while, they say the pandemic is what’s pushed grocery stores to be more accepting of the touchless system.

“Since the pandemic started, we’re getting retailers globally reaching out to us that want to work with us," Beshry said.

Because touchless is the new trend.

“Things that are non-invasive, that are safe and secure," University of Houston Professor Dr. Barbara Stewart said.

Dr. Stewart says the pandemic has advanced grocery store shopping by 5-10 years, in only a matter of months.

“So the things that we’ve seen are, first of all, an explosion of online and a great growth of curbside delivery for groceries," Dr. Stewart said.

Retailers were literally forced to adapt, and then, so were the customers.  

“We tried things, and we liked it. Of consumers over 60 years old, 40% tried online shopping for the first time. They found it efficient and convenient and so that sticks," Dr. Stewart said.

Dr. Stewart says around 50% of grocers plan to do some sort of remodeling to accommodate these new changes.