The Fridge Becomes FreshDirect's Virtual Storefront

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As a supermarket chain with no supermarkets, FreshDirect has always been an early mover by design. That made Samsung's Internet-connected refrigerator a natural fit.

"As technology moves toward the 'connected home' we want to be a part of that; we'll try anything to find new connections," said Jodi Kahn, chief consumer officer at FreshDirect, a web-based grocer that covers 55,000 square miles in New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Connecticut and Pennsylvania.

A longtime Web grocer that got a foothold as an alternative to brick and mortar supermarkets in New York, FreshDirect is facing increased competition online as well as a possible pricing war. In response, the company is increasing its use of cutting-edge technology and is one of the first grocers to support MasterCard's payments collaboration with Samsung's Family Hub connected refrigerator (ShopRite is the other early adopter).

"What better place is there to be when ordering food than where you get your food?" Kahn said.

Consumers access FreshDirect or ShopRite on Samsung’s e-refrigerators by swiping or tapping the WiFi enabled touchscreen on the front of the appliance. The touchscreen then allows consumers to browse items in the store and access nutritional information and other product details. Items are added to a family cart that can be changed through the week, with purchases approved by typing a four-digit PIN.

FreshDirect sees the connected refrigerator as a starting point for other services that it can tie to food ordering. The company plans to add streaming content to accompany its food and wine ordering options, for example.

"It has room to evolve," Kahn said. "You can watch a cooking video and order items highlighted in that video, or a video that teaches kids about food as you are ordering."

MasterCard, which expects to announce more participating supermarket chains in the near term, is also extending its participation in Samsung Family Hub. The card network plans to introduce voice ordering, loyalty and rewards, coupon redemption and paying by gift card, among other features. It additionally plans to provide personal recommendations and offers, and access to the MasterPass digital wallet.

"This is another avenue for the grocers," said Mike Minelli, a vice president at MasterCard Labs, adding consumers typically visit several different stores each week to restock their kitchens. "We can use the Family Hub as a way to connect consumers to several stores."

Other companies are also taking advantage of expanded Web connectivity to offer in-home shopping and delivery., for example, is rapidly expanding its range of Dash buttons, which consumers place around their home to restock on items such as toilet paper and laundry detergent.

MasterCard views the Web-connected refrigerator as a gateway to in-home payments because the appliance is a centralized device. "People put pictures and notes on their refrigerator, as well as the shopping list," Minelli said. "It's a place where the family congregates."

Ordering groceries through an Internet-connected fridge is still a new concept, so its prospects aren't clear right now, according to David Livingston, a grocery industry analyst.

"This is an interesting technology. I would not have a clue on how well it would go over," Livingston said. "Online grocery is growing but its market share is still insignificant compared to bricks and mortar. As long as new grocery formats keep coming along that are fun and compelling to shop, online shopping will only have a small share"

That share is expanding, Minelli said, making Web grocery shopping, payments and delivery a key focus for retailers.  

"Brick and mortar stores need to invest in this," Minelli said. "There is an expectation among consumers to have a convenient omnichannel experience in all areas."

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