Through the BBC I came across this story about Lifvs, a Swedish chain of small supermarkets in mainly rural areas that had been progressively closing stores because it was not profitable to run them.
Lifvs are unstaffed small, 24-hour stores or mini-supermarkets. Customers enter using an app and identifying themselves through the Swedish electronic identification system BankID, which has a 94% penetration — and then buy their groceries by scanning them with their smartphone and using a digital payment system. The app also enables the distribution of Brand discount coupons.
The store is permanently monitored by cameras, which, coupled with the fact that we’re in highly civilized Sweden, tends to prevent shoplifting and alerts a supervisor if there is a problem, such as an item falling off a shelf or an unauthorized entry. This person, usually responsible for several stores in a given area, pops in to each shop from time to time depending on the needs of each store, restocks the shelves and cleans up.
A maximum of two customers can be in the store at any time, reflecting the pandemic times we live in, and perhaps makes it more attractive, bearing in mind stereotypes of Swedish sociability. The founders, who have already set up 20 stores since over the last year, noticed that an increasing number of areas in the country were becoming supply deserts, forcing residents to travel many miles for basic foodstuffs and household goods. Modular containerized construction allows them to be installed in inexpensive locations — rural communities are generally welcoming — and easily moved if they don’t work well in a given location, while the absence of staff (beyond occasional restocking and cleaning) cuts costs to the bone. The company is considering expansion into other markets such as the UK, Spain, Portugal and Germany.
The idea, which seems to be widely accepted, even among older people, joins the well-known Amazon Go model (whose Just Walk Out technology can now be licensed to other companies), and other similar developments that reduce or eliminate interaction. In response, other Swedish chains such as ICA or Coop are working on hybrid models and stores that remain unattended for a certain number of hours.
There seems to be a clear trend toward eliminating staff in some areas of retail. So if you ever find yourself alone in the supermarket, don’t worry… it’s probably the way it was designed.
This post was previously published on Enrique Dans.
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