When stores refuse to check out
Checkout-free Auchan stores: the French brand goes for broke
No one can have missed the current headlines about the opening of a completely self-service Auchan store. In this case, it literally means self-service, because this test supermarket has absolutely no checkouts whatsoever.
Auchan Minute is designed to counteract Amazon Go. It uses a model that was initially tested in Shanghai and is now being exported to France. The first store opening is planned for March 2019 in Villeneuve d’Ascq whereas in China, there are already more than 700. Like Amazon, Auchan’s pilot store will only be accessible to the company’s employees during the initial trial.
The way that everything works is inspired by Amazon. Nevertheless, Auchan is aiming for a smaller store size, in the form of an urban-style supermarket with only food products on offer. Moreover, the store will be open 24 hours a day. Yet French unions fear the gradual disappearance of checkout workers’ jobs in favor of total automation of big-box retailers. The only employees who will be trained to work in smart stores will be shelf stackers and warehouse workers.
Auchan is no stranger to innovation
The supermarket giant is accustomed to innovating at the cash desk. The problem had already arisen when the Caisse Minute self-checkout was created in 2006, and Rapid’Auchan’s scanning six years later. As a reminder, the Caisse Minute allows customers to scan and check out their own items. Whereas Rapid’Auchan allows customers to scan their purchases as they make their way around the store, using a scanning gun as they shop. This means that they only need to go through the checkout to finalize their payment.
Amazon, pioneer of the checkout-free store
While Amazon is widely credited with the concept of a supermarket with no checkouts and no personnel. Few people know that the first smart store, covering an area of 167 m² opened in Seattle in 2016. The store was only available to Amazon employees. And it also underwent a two-year test phase to optimize the performance of the automated systems based on peaks in demand.
Amazon decided in 2018 to share its invention with the general public. Customers in Seattle can easily shop by swiping in with their smartphones at the entrance to the store. Once their bags are filled with shopping, there are no checkouts or staff to deal with: customers simply leave in the same way that they entered. Everything will be charged to their Amazon account.
Amazon Go: Big Brother is watching
How is it possible? The store uses a number of systems derived from machine learning:
- An Amazon Go app must be downloaded to the user’s smartphone to open an account;
- Over a hundred in-store cameras track customers as they shop;
- Sensors and recognition software linked to the cameras are capable of detecting product references, scanning them, and assigning them to the right customer.
Amazon built on this experience to open several more smart stores of the same type, in Seattle, Chicago and San Francisco. Besides New York is the next city on the company’s list.
In France, however, there is no lack of innovations.
Sephora and Carrefour City are following suit
What links the giant cosmetics retailer with the major supermarket?
Neos, a start-up that markets a mobile checkout app.
Customers can use this app on their cellphones to complete their purchases in the two stores, in conjunction with a linked bank card. The app, which is still in its test phase, has won over customers who benefit from a faster way to complete their shopping while avoiding lines at peak times.
The Casino supermarket brand is also worth mentioning, as it is also experimenting (albeit more quietly) with automatic purchase recognition. As Monop’easy did before. Following the same principle, customers can scan their own items in the store, but they are still required to go through a checkout to leave.
2019 will be a turning point in the digitalization of stores. Each of these innovations saves customers’ time. But it also benefits supermarkets by enabling them to employ fewer workers at the checkout. This is also the concern of trade unions and employees in big box retailers, who are less optimistic about what the future holds.
The latest news suggest Carrefour will be hot on the heels of Auchan in the race to open the first connected store in France. An announcement has been made that a test store will soon be opened at Carrefour’s corporate headquarters in the same timeframe as its competitor. The battle lines have therefore been drawn as France’s two leading supermarkets face off against one another.
Although it remains to be seen whether the model used in the United States and China will be exported wholesale to France.
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