In February, information technology professional Robert Ilijason opened a 480-square-foot convenience store in Viken, Sweden, the Associate Press reported. Ilijason’s shop is open 24-hours a day and sells common pre-packaged food and convenience items. It’s also unstaffed.
Customers download a mobile custom app that enables them to enter the store and scan and purchase their items.
Though novel and the first of its kind, Ilijason’s establishment is part of a larger movement toward automated, human-free point-of-sale systems and services.
Amazon now offers “click-and-collect” service to customers in the U.K., according to The Guardian. This system allows consumers to pay for their items online and then pick them up from secure, company-sponsored lock boxes. Additionally, British grocery store chains Asda and Tesco have similar programs. In fact, Tesco has been at the forefront of the staff-free trend for years, The Sun reported. The company opened a cashier-free store in Northamptonshire in 2009. One employee oversees the operation and monitors the self-checkout queues for shoplifters.
U.S. retailers have yet to latch on to the movement so completely. However, one key seller will soon enter the fray: Whole Foods.
On May 25, the organic grocer plans to launch a new line of bare-bones stores branded with the name “365,” The New York Times reported. The flagship location in Los Angeles’ Silver Lake neighborhood will feature low-priced food items and store-made meals. However, patrons won’t find many staff members mulling about. The company has replaced its traditional checkout lines with electronic, self-checkout kiosks. Additionally, the wine section is staffed by a virtual sommelier. And tea drinkers can expect brewing recommendations from an automated machine called teaBOT, the product of a Canadian startup.
Despite these bells and whistles, Whole Foods hasn’t completely erased all human presence in the store. The Silver Lake 365 location staffs 100 employees. Conversely, traditional Whole Foods stores staff somewhere between 250 and 500 employees.
Still, the grocery store chain’s move toward automated systems could lead to sweeping change here in the states. Don’t be surprised if you soon find yourself walking into one of Robert Ilijason’s U.S. locations and using an app-based point-of-sale system to purchase your items.
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