Touch-Free

Preview image of “Touch-Free”
  • Amazon will bring its Go Grocery from Seattle to London
  • Photos: Amazon, Starbucks, Wheelys
The chain is testing self-service cafés in Bangkok

Fast and safe – the pandemic is accelerating our trend towards contactless shopping.

It’s not just the online giant from Seattle, which with its 20 (and counting) Amazon Go mini-markets in the USA has been testing various customer journeys since 2017. Other companies are also pushing to reduce personnel and eliminate the cash register.

In the small Swedish town of Viken, IT technician Robert Ilijason has been tinkering with a staffless grocery store, Näraffär, opened in 2016. A smartphone app specially developed by Ilijason took customers through the shopping process, giving them access to the store, where they could choose from around 450 products and pay digitally. Ilijason’s idea was further developed after his sale to Swedish start-up Wheelys, and then developed further along with Shanghai’s Hefei University. There, a mobile mini-mart is being tested, under the Moby Mart label, which can steer unmanned through the urban jungle. As the products sell out, the mobile 24-hour store drives back to the warehouse on its own to be refilled. With Moby PSI, the company offers a less complex, fully automated, personnel-free micro-shop solution, already available as a white label.

Especially in the Asian market, unmanned stores and vending machines were booming even before the pandemic. For example, Chinese start-up BingoBox and French supermarket chain Auchan launched their first stationary food stores without staff in China on small store areas of up to 20 square metres. Customers are given access to the store via an app and can scan their own purchases at checkout.

Meanwhile Starbucks has installed its first self-service machine with digitally configurable functions and a contactless payment option in a Bangkok shopping centre. The desired beverage can be customised with extras and costs less than in a staffed store.

Amazon unveiled its latest expansion stage in early 2020 with Amazon Go Grocery in Seattle. The 960 square-metre store covers a significantly expanded product range with over 5,000 items from fresh foods to household goods. Amazon plans to bring the concept to Europe by the end of the year and present the first Amazon Go store in London’s Notting Hill district. The company is also marketing its “Just Walk Out” technologies under licence to third parties.

German food retailers have so far concentrated on developing the relevant technologies in-house. This also includes vending machines: Aldi Süd is currently testing its first 24-hour vending machine in front of a store in Hassloch, Rhineland Palatinate. The “ALDImat” serves customers who come to shop outside of the regular opening hours. The local selection is currently limited to a maximum of 40 products and is more of an “option for emergencies than a full shopping replacement”.

Wheelys introduces the automated store