The idea of going into a store for your groceries, filling your bag and leaving without so much as swiping a payment card at an express checkout sounds like looting but is, in fact, the possible future of retail grocery shopping.

You do pay for your items of course; before entering the store – or shopping floor – you present your via your phone to be scanned and this records your purchases, charges them to your payment card, and sends a virtual receipt shortly after you leave. Cameras track which items you remove from the shelves.

Fast selling is the future

Fast retail sales are already here of course with electronic point of sale tech, and online orders from many e-commerce businesses are processed and dispatched including automatic stock control management in lightning quick time.  

The cashier less store as with the Amazon Go grocery outlet described above is another step on from the cashless store where cards only are used for payment; now it’s a case of using a smartphone app and not interacting with staff at all.

While speeding up physical purchasing is a goal for some retailers in response to most people’s dislike of queuing or having to wait, shifting over to cashier free shopping will obviously change retail if it does gain traction.

Amazon at the forefront

The online retailing giant is generally making a push into physical retail; along with Amazon Go stores in Seattle and elsewhere there are ambitious plans for more, they’re extending their grocery service to include home delivery, and already have over a dozen bookshops throughout the US.

Staffing and investment concerns

If cashier less stores do take hold, then upfront investment, staffing and margins will be affected.

Investment – start-up costs for a cashier less store are high; even a ‘traditional’ express checkout set up of four lanes costs around $125,000, so Amazon’s set up for cashier less stores involving extra tech such as sensors, a multitude of cameras and heavy duty processing power for in-app payment handling is certain to cost much more.

The average small-scale retailer wouldn’t find it easy meeting these set up expenses. That said, retailers able to invest can look forward to reduced costs as staffing levels would potentially plummet.

Staffing – cashier in a store is the second most common job in the US, and even ‘standard’ self-checkout machines are presently less common than they are in Europe or Japan.

Whilst staff costs would be slashed if cashier less stores proliferate, clearly it could have an extremely detrimental effect on the US economy if a large sector of employment is eroded.

That said, at least some staff will still be required to stock shelves, assist customers with tech issues and generally keep the store neat and tidy.

Smaller and more targeted premises

The cashier less principle plays a lot on the convenience of popping in and out quickly, so the business model may incorporate physically smaller premises with certain product categories not offered such as liquor.

Offering cashier less facilities in a giant physical superstore might defeat the object of being able to visit and leave quickly.

Also, there is scope for opening stores set up to cater for a specific need or type of customer depending on location. For example, to serve areas densely populated with offices a store might stock just lighter lunch items and the type of groceries people grab on their way home from work.

Tracking customers

Amazon’s cashier less model requires users to have an account with them and download the app used for scanning at the store.

This exerts a degree of control over the customer and asks them to ‘commit’ to the arrangement – and it does give Amazon and others using the model tremendous scope regarding tracking customer habits and preferences.

Customer driven development

Due to being able to track and understand customers as above, the way cashier less stores and tech develops going forward can be very much customer led as data and information gathered is used as intelligence.


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