When Tesco opened its first checkout free store in London last month (October) it was seen as not only a landmark moment for the UK’s leading supermarket chain, but for retail in general.
For the way we shop in store is on the cusp of a seismic shift. AI is paving the way for what many predict will be a cashier-less retail reality.
Tesco is the first of the UK’s supermarket chains to trial the checkout-free technology. The chain’s GetGo store in Holborn enables shoppers to buy their groceries without the need to scan them or visit a till. They can just “walk out” and the receipt is sent digitally to them within 30 seconds. Aldi and Sainsbury’s have since entered the market, while Amazon had already rolled-out several of their ‘just walk out’ stores in London, and have now implemented their technology into Sainsbury’s stores. Meanwhile, Morrison’s have announced their intention to follow suit.
So are check-out free stores the future?
“Our society is evolving. Automation and AI are being incorporated into our daily lives and we are starting to reap the benefits. Shopping should be no exception,” says Michael Gabay, the co-founder of Trigo, the Israeli tech firm powering Tesco’s GetGo store.
“Our preferences and daily lives are almost unrecognisable compared to how they were five years ago. It’s all been shaped by the on-the-go lifestyle – Apple pay, Google play, tap credit cards, everything is done as quickly and conveniently as possible. These are the results of people seeking more efficient methods of getting through our daily tasks and routines. Our capabilities and expectations have soared in the last years, and shopping methods need to keep up with this.” It’s technology that will enable them to do so.
The Tesco tech works like this: Shoppers download the Tesco app scanning a QR code to check in to the store. Cameras in the ceiling and weight sensors in the shelves work with AI technology to track an individual’s movement around the store, monitoring the items they pick up. The bill is charged to their Tesco account and the receipt sent to their device within 30 seconds. Trigo’s GDPR-compliant AI solution anonymises a shopper’s movement and product choice. No biometric or facial recognition data are gathered or analysed.
Trigo was founded in 2018 by brothers Michael and Daniel Gabay with a simple mission: to accelerate the digitisation of store spaces transforming traditional shopping into a new-and-improved seamless experience.
The company, which has raised $104 million (£77m) to date, is also operational in supermarket chain REWE, in Germany, Aldi Nord in the Netherlands with plans to expand into other European and US locations in the coming months.
Clearly demand is there. Consumer habits and preferences have changed dramatically. “Our free time has become more precious,” says Gabay. “This makes a long checkout line, along with other frustrations associated with traditional shopping methods, feel like an unnecessary waste of time – even if we really do need the groceries.”
He explains: “According to Nielsen’s research, the top five frustrations when shopping are: waiting in the checkout line (37%), out-of-stock items (36%), trouble locating products (24%), long shopping trips despite a small shopping list (23%) and difficulty finding a store assistant (20%).”
“The solution here is technology – not only does cashier-less checkout eliminate waiting times, but it also allows stores to allocate their employees to customer service roles and put a greater emphasis on customer experience and store layout optimisation. These are just some of the many benefits that cashier-less technology brings.
“Inefficiency for shoppers belong in the past, and now we have the means to overcome it.”
Besides, the impact of COVID cannot be ignored. Social distancing has shifted the mindset of people when it comes to shopping. The lack of physical contact with cashiers and self-checkouts, will appeal to many, who deem it a safer consumer experience, and a safer working environment for members of staff.
But might the tech prove tricky for some less tech-savvy customers, such as the elderly? “This is why we, together with REWE and other retailers, have introduced hybrid stores that allow for people to choose their preferred method of shopping. This also allows people who aren’t as confident with frictionless methods to observe other shoppers and become more familiar with the newer methods.”
Shopping habits will not change overnight. There will be growing pains that come with such a shift, which is why Trigo introduced hybrid stores. “Shoppers can pick and choose their preferred method of shopping.”
But the advantages of check-out free stores are hard to ignore. For consumers: shorter, safer shopping trips and not having to wait in line. For retailers: the freeing up of resources, allowing for greater focus on stock management, customer service and the in-store experience. Gabay adds: “Of course these benefits also directly or indirectly affect customers as well. Anything that helps retailers to improve the shopping experience will ultimately trickle down to consumers. If we think back to the frustrations listed in the Nielsen research, we can see that frictionless shopping solutions will heavily reduce most or even all the drawbacks of traditional shopping methods.”
While we are not at the mass roll-out stage, with so many stores entering the market, surely it won’t be long. “The companies that implement this technology now will likely reap the benefits in the future, while their competitors might struggle to catch up.” As Gabay puts it: “The race is on.”