Supermarket chain Sainsbury’s has announced it will be the first in the UK to run a completely checkout free store. Its Holborn Circus store in London, where 82% of purchases are already cashless is ripping out all of its checkouts in a 3-month trial of the latest app-only payment technology. The move mirrors Amazon’s automated ‘Amazon Go’ strategy, where groceries stores also have no checkouts and a skeleton staff.
Sainsbury’s was last week dealt a devastating blow by the Competition and Markets Authority after the regulator vetoed its proposed merger with Asda on the grounds it would unhealthily reduce competition in a way likely to culminate in higher prices for shoppers. However, news of how the company is embracing the latest technology in the world of automated grocery stores might provide investors with a crumb of comfort.
The lower staff costs the use of such technology should lead to should make the company both more profitable and lower cost, with at least some of the savings passed on to customers.
The system Sainsbury’s will trial for 3 months takes things a step further than the cashier-free checkouts that many supermarkets and convenience stores introduced several years ago. In that system customers scan their shopping themselves at cashier-free checkout, pay by card or cash and leave the store.
The new system will involve customers opening an app and scanning the groceries they wish to buy with their smartphone as they put them in their basket or trolley. When they are done payment is also made through the same app and a code scanned by a sensor on the way out to confirm payment.
The app-based payment system has already been introduced into 8 London Sainsbury’s stores, including the Holborn location but is one payment choice with cashier free checkouts and tradition checkout manned by cashiers also available. The 3-month Holborn trial will be the first time the app-based payment and checkout system is the only option available.
Clodagh Moriarty, the company’s chief digital officer commented:
“We know our customers value their time and many want to shop as quickly as possible – technology is key to that”.
“This is an experiment rather than a new format for us – it hasn’t been done in the UK before and we’re really excited to understand how our customers respond to the app experience”.
“We’ll be with our customers and colleagues all the way over the coming months, iterating continuously based on their feedback before we decide if, how and where we make this experience more widely.”
How likely it is that the trial will lead to a new breed of checkout free shops becoming a common sight across the UK in the near future remains to be seen. Self-service checkouts have been a feature of supermarkets, convenience stores and some shops for years but many customers still find them inconvenient and prefer to opt for a cashier.
Even if some customers are happy to embrace the new technology and take an understanding approach to inevitable teething problems, it seems optimistic to expect that technology-friendly cross section of shoppers to become a bit enough majority to justify sweeping changes across the country any time soon. However, the technology may have a place in particular locations where the demographic of enough footfall fits.