In the past decades, the retail industry and its environment have faced continuous changes like the increased importance of online retailing as well as the changed consumer demand for greater convenience. Related, wide-ranging economic and demographic changes have resulted in market-specific pressures leading to seismic strategic shifts across the industry (LeDoux & Vojnovic, 2013; Wrigley et al., 2019). The grocery retail sector, for example, has seen forays into online ordering and delivery, extensive store format innovation and changing store network provision affecting the balance between metropolitan centres and rural areas 2019). This restructuring has created geographical regions with inadequate food supply – commonly referred to as ‘food deserts’ (Adams et al., 2010; Bitler & Haider, 2011; Dennis et al., 2007). In order to solve the problem of supply gaps, retailer introduce a new form of retail outlets, which can be managed with a minimum amount of personnel resources.
The aim of this project is to explore the effect of unmanned automated retail outlets on the vitality of rural areas. Therefore, the authors propose an exploratory research design with interviews aiming to investigate stakeholders from two locations such as local businesses, local residents, administration, association, etc. on the one hand and a web-based and on-site administered surveys with disadvantaged shoppers from two locations (rural locations without grocery stores nearby, “food deserts”) on the other hand. The study has a longitudinal character and will take place across three collection times. This survey method enables the authors to ensure mid- and long-term results and identify relevant consumers’/residents’ perspectives, trends and behaviours.