The notion of employee-less stores has gained interest worldwide, prompting buzz around kiosk-based ordering in restaurants, cashierless checkout, and completely unmanned stores by companies including Amazon, JD and BingoBox. Driven by start-ups and enormous tech companies, these technologies have the potential to usher in new business models, lower operating costs and save customers time. Companies profiled include Zaitt, Iris Nova, Innisfree, HaiDiLao, Sam’s Club, Ceconomy AG and Flyzoo.
Driven in part by big investments into unmanned stores by major players including JD.com and Amazon, many retailers, restaurants and tech companies have begun exploring fully and partially unattended checkout formats. Examples of technologies used include self-checkout stations, mobile-based scan and go initiatives, ordering via a kiosk or in-store screen, and fully unattended take and go formats.
Unattended commerce has two primary benefits for companies: reduced costs and improved customer experience. Costs are reduced primarily via lowering labour costs by requiring fewer employees to process purchases. Customer experience can be improved in a number of ways, including offering extended hours at reduced costs, removing the risk of long queues to check out, and allowing front-line employees to be moved from checkout to higher value tasks, such as providing recommendations to and gathering feedback from shoppers.
Unattended commerce carries certain risks, mainly around the financial costs of implementing unattended commerce technology, the social and civic risks of cutting jobs particularly in high unemployment markets, and the fact that shoppers have varied opinions about unattended commerce. What appeals to one subset of consumers may be off-putting to another. Companies can mitigate these risks by choosing a technology carefully, moving employees to other tasks rather than eliminating them, and offering shoppers a range of options so they can choose.
Thanks to the cost reductions and improvements to the customer experience, interest in unattended commerce is only likely to increase in the next five years. Companies should prepare to invest in these services, and consider carefully the ways that companies in different regions, industries and price points can introduce unattended commerce elements in ways that benefit their consumers.
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