31/03/2017

A shop with no staff and no checkout!!



There are some pretty strange ideas floating about as to how we’ll be doing our shopping in the future most of which appear to involve using as few staff as possible. In fact it seems the ultimate aim is for us never to leave our screens (says he typing a blog!). However a sort of compromise may be round the corner to enable those who don’t want to shop online to still do so in a retail environment albeit without any contact with employees. The concept is not totally new; there are gyms that allow access without any staff present but until last year it had not been tried in conventional retail. 



The idea was pioneered in Sweden in the Spring of 2016 by a technology expert called Robert Illiason and the surprising thing is that his advanced grocery store opened in a small town of Viken rather than somewhere larger. The unmanned store allows people to buy things at any time whether day or night and uses a mixture of cameras and applications to charge accounts via a smartphone app called `Näraffär  ( Swedish for `shop nearby)` that scans the goods. Illiason has said he deliberately opened the store in a quiet place in order to test the technology but hopes to roll the concept out on a grander scale.

Like any good idea, it hasn’t taken long to be tried elsewhere and the highest profile example has been the Amazon Go store in Seattle.  The idea that Amazon would even open a store does suggest that retailers accept there may never be 100% online shopping (at least not in any of our lifetimes) and some people will prefer to actually walk around at least some of the time.

The shop sells mostly food items and how it works is you scan your smartphone on entering the shop Then you pick whatever items you want and are automatically charged because the shop (which feels like it should be refer to as a living being) knows exactly what you have bought. The advantages of this are that, unlike online shopping, you can select which items you want so you don’t end up receiving a delivery of less than ripe bananas or something. Plus you get to move around as opposed to yet more sitting at a screen.

To enable this to work there are a considerable number of both  CCTV cameras and also sensors to detect when something is lifted from a shelf and cleverly if you lift something then change your mind and put it back the scanners can detect this too. When you leave your purchases are charged directly to your online Amazon account. It’s even supposed to be shop lifter proof as having to scan in means the system has the account details of everyone in store so even if you did that thing of taking something and eating it as you went round you’d still be charged. 
No staff hiding in there either

Some UK supermarkets are already experimenting with giving shoppers hand held devices to scan barcodes as they shop so they don’t need to queue at the end however the sort of technology the Amazon shop uses is likely to be very expensive. While it could be built in to new outlets, for existing shops all of the shelving would have to be replaced with the sensors. However we know by now that once these things start there is no stopping them. I wonder what these places do if you drop something?

There’s a twist in this tail too. It’s just been announced that due to technical issues the rollout is not happening just yet. According to US sources it turns out that if there are more than about twenty customers in the shop the system cannot keep up with their movements. It’s also having difficulties if items are moved from one place on a shelf to another. You know what they could do with are a few staff.....

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