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How toilet paper and avocados help explain the grocery store of the future

Carts. Dense aisles of fresh and packaged goods. Checkouts.

Beginning with the first self-service market over 100 years ago, the mechanics of grocery shopping have remained largely unchanged. A time traveler from 1920 would surely be amazed by the sheer decadence and scale of today’s stores but would have little trouble understanding the model.

More than any technological disruption, the coronavirus pandemic has placed significant pressure on the longstanding norms of grocery in terms of how retailers must ensure safe conditions for both shoppers and workers, meet customer expectations, and generate revenue in a stubbornly low-margin business. For customers, pandemic shopping has compromised much of what makes in-person experiences meaningful, from discovery and spontaneity to human connection. What was once a mundane and unremarkable facet of daily life now feels fraught with peril.

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