Autonomous, or checkout free, store concepts have been gaining ground over the last few years, with companies piloting different models. This has accelerated since the start of the pandemic as retailers look to develop contactless and frictionless solutions. We highlight four which have recently launched, or are set to make their debut, in North America.
1. CIBO Express, Newark Airport, New York
Hospitality group, OTG, has opened its first CIBO Express Gourmet Market convenience stores featuring Amazon’s ‘Just Walk Out’ technology. The CIBO Express stores at Newark Airport, New York, are the first two stores to be developed as part of the partnership between OTG and Amazon. Located at Terminal C, the stores are equipped with the technology which Amazon has showcased at its Amazon Go and larger format, Amazon Go Grocery, stores. Customers gain access to the store by swiping their credit card. They shop the store as they would in a conventional store but can walk out without any further scanning or checking of their purchases. The company is looking to develop an alternative access method for customers without a credit card. Customer hosts are currently also available to help new users adopt the technology.
2. Hudson Nonstop, Dallas Love Field Airport, Dallas
Hudson, part of the Dufry Company, which operates more than 1,000 stores in airports, commuter hubs, landmarks, and tourist locations, is also partnering with Amazon to use its ‘Just Walk Out' technology. It will be deployed initially at Hudson Nonstop, a travel convenience format at Dallas Love Field Airport, in the first quarter of this year, with additional roll-outs planned through 2021. The technology will enable customers to enter the store using their credit card, take the products they’re looking for, and walk out of the store.
Source: IGD Research, Hudson, McGill University, Choice Market
3. Couche-Tard, Montreal, Quebec
Couche-Tard, which operates the Circle K brand globally, has launched a live retail lab store in Montreal featuring an autonomous shopping experience. Launched in partnership with McGill University, the lab store has been launched to enable the testing of innovative and frictionless technologies in a live environment. A key feature of the store is Couche-Tard Connecté area. This features frictionless technologies which enable an autonomous and contactless checkout experience. Customers enter the store via an app, pick up their items and leave. Store associates are available to support customers, while the team at McGill University will study the interaction between people and technology with the goal of improving the customer experience.
4. Choice Market, Denver, Colorado
Innovative convenience store chain, Choice Market, plans to open a frictionless concept in Denver, Colorado. Customers will be able to access the 5,000 sq ft store using a dedicated app, “One Choice.” Upon scanning a QR code at entry, they will then be able to shop the store and walk out with their items. In contrast to some of the other autonomous store concepts, store associates will also be present, focused on preparing and serving food-to-go ranges, fresh coffee and ice cream. The retailer which operates three smaller stores, plans to retrofit them with the technology, enabling them to deliver the same experience.
Multiple concepts being developed
These four companies join several others in North America, either testing or rolling-out autonomous solutions. Amazon is the most notable of these with its Amazon Go and Amazon Go Grocery formats. AiFi, which has formed several global partnerships, is working with Loop Neighborhood Market in California, Standard Cognition has partnered with Couche-Tard in Phoenix, Zippin has installations at several sports stadiums including the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento, California, and Grabango is working with Giant Eagle in Pittsburgh. However, while there is significantly more activity underway in this space, these types of concepts remain relatively rare.
The human element
The partnerships with OTG and Hudson are particularly interesting, as the travel locations will ensure exposure to a much wider group of consumers. The Couche-Tard partnership with McGill University, and its focus on the interaction between consumers and the technology and is one to watch though. This is what will decide how quickly these concepts become mainstream, rather than how impressive the technologies are.
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