In post-apocalyptic movies, there’s one thing that prompts protagonists to get out of their hiding: grocery shopping.

Even with the fear of an unseen entity, Sandra Bullock and the rest of the Bird Box ensemble go to great lengths for a quick trip to the mart. In Zombieland, Woody Harrelson searched almost every shop and store just to find a Twinkie, much to the distress of Jesse Eisenberg who was dragged around.

As life imitates art, we saw the same thing during the COVID-19 lockdown. The pandemic halted every activity where we needed to get out of our homes-except for grocery shopping. At the end of the world, life goes on when you still get your share of supplies.

How exactly did supermarkets become such a vital part of society?

Non-Perishables: A Timeless Commodity Driving the Retail Business

Technology paved the way for many businesses today. In retail, advancements in food preservation transformed it into a billion-dollar business. Were it not for refrigerator or cold-storage compressors, supermarkets wouldn’t have freezers large enough to store a community’s supply of frozen meat and vegetables. Over at the dry goods sections, curing and canned food technology is the only thing keeping the aisles full.

In the event of a disaster, non-perishables will have everyone come running to the stores. Last 2020, as soon as reporters broke the news of a nationwide lockdown, supermarkets were instantly filled with hoarders and panic buyers.

Even before the pandemic, supermarkets are already profiting from stockpilers who like to keep their supplies stocked. Food hoarders pile food for a variety of reasons. Some of them have a psychological struggle to “let go” or get rid of rotting food. Others genuinely believe that the stored food will be valuable for them at some point in time.

Each time the nation experiences a massive disaster, many retail businesses report a surge in preserved food sales. Melanie Woodward of the freeze-dried food company, Mountain House, noted the rapid growth in their industry after Hurricane Katrina caused massive destruction. In an interview with Deseret News, Woodward said, “That’s when we saw a major shift in the market. I think that awoke something. People recognize it could happen. Something could happen.”

Likewise, food storage companies like Tomorrow’s Harvest noted an increase in sales since 2009, when the recession left economies in turmoil.

With their stacks of non-perishables and frozen food, it’s not hard to envision supermarkets that could outlast an apocalypse-as long as you get the thieves and arsonists out of the store.

How the Self-Service Model Revolutionized Grocery Shopping Experience

Before the 20th century, customers would bring their shopping lists to the grocery clerks, who’ll then bag the items for pick-up or delivery. It’s all thanks to the pioneering supermarket Piggly Wiggly that the contemporary shopper can enjoy the self-service design of grocery stores.

Since Piggly Wiggly introduced individual price marking, checkout counters, and shopping carts, shopping has transformed from being a chore, into a weekend activity, where you can enjoy a relaxing time alone, or spend it with your family or friends.

This allowed consumers to make more decisions regarding their basic commodities. Professor of food marketing John Stanton noted that it is “really the origin of branding.” As the market becomes full of options, companies are prompted to find ways that can make their brand stand out.

Piggly Wiggly’s self-service design is the brainchild of owner Claurence Sanders. He was very hands-on with grocery layout, arranging aisles in accordance with shopping behaviors. The tactic of placing candy and other impulse buys right next to the checkout counter was one of his ideas.

Aside from Piggly Wiggly, Sanders made other advancements in retail, such as Keedoozle, America’s first fully automated grocery store running on vending machines.

Automation: The Future of Grocery Shopping

As a whole, Keedoozle stood on complicated logistics that caused its eventual failure. Not more than three stores were built in America.

But stripped of the complexities, Keedoozle’s simple idea of an automated grocery store has a lot to offer&mdash and it seems to be where many supermarkets are headed.

The pandemic forced supermarkets to adapt automated services, from touchless scanners to self-checkout counters.

The technology company AiFi launched its Autonomous Store Platform, which replaces cashiers with AI. Shoppers can enter a store, get what they need, then walk out; easy peasy. The payment will already be charged on their credit and debit cards.

To provide this shopping experience, AiFi created the Open Autonomous Store Infrastructure and Services (OASIS), a computer vision system that works with RGB cameras to track items that customers pick up. Aside from making shopping more convenient for customers, OASIS can also provide real-time track inventory and sales analytics for the store.

With or without a pandemic, retail businesses should keep up with customer’s changing demands. To remain relevant, supermarkets should always ask themselves, “Where are the customers and how do we bring our services to them?” The right answer could keep your store afloat amid any other outbreaks we could face.