The concept of a “till-free” supermarket might sound appealing and convenient to many shoppers.
The ability to stroll out of a store, groceries in hand, with no scanning or queues could save consumers a lot of time and hassle.
On the other hand, critics say this could strip out the most valuable thing from bricks-and-mortar retail: human interaction.
Major retailers including Amazon, Tesco and Aldi are trialling these stores, opening supermarkets that dispense groceries without the need for any checkout – self-service or staffed.
Most recently, Tesco launched its first checkout-free store in Holborn, London.
“Our latest innovation offers a seamless checkout for customers on the go, helping them to save a bit more time,” Tesco Convenience managing director Kevin Tindall told the BBC.
“This is currently just a one-store trial, but we’re looking forward to seeing how our customers respond.”
Retail Economics chief executive Richard Lim added that Tesco’s move was “reflective of the way the wider industry is heading”.
In order to shop at these stores, customers simply download a specific app on their phone.
Cameras and sensor technology then identify merchandise they remove from shelves and the payment is settled electronically, with a receipt sent immediately after.
The physical till is no longer needed, and the customer can “just walk out”.
These checkout-free stores may be the future of grocery shopping, but what is the social cost of replacing human cashiers with automated systems? Is creating a more efficient but impersonal customer experience desirable for most consumers?
For many shoppers, particularly those who are elderly, lonely or vulnerable, interactions with cashiers are important.
The pandemic further highlighted this need for human contact, with supermarket checkout staff providing comfort and respite for many during a period of prolonged isolation.
As well as the social aspect, there are an estimated 2.9 million supermarket staff in the UK.
With the advancement of checkout-free stores, it is feared many of this workforce will face the axe.
A million supermarket jobs could be lost over the next decade as supermarkets make this shift, according to a report by The Mirror.
“We could have 100 per cent no retail cashiers in operation today,” Faethm AI vice president James McLeod told i.
“The technology exists, it is more about human culture as to whether that will happen.
“The way we interact and our expectations of going into retailers needs to change over time.”
While checkout-free stores offer optimal efficiency to some, particularly in urban centres, they may compromise a personal, human element that many are accustomed to.
The industry will continue to adapt and modernise, identifying consumers’ ever-changing needs and priorities.