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Sainsbury’s opens doors of first UK till-free convenience store that’s open to the public; Argos launches self-service store

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Sainsbury’s this week becomes the first UK retailer to operate a till-free grocery convenience store that’s open to the public – beating competitors including Amazon to launch a new kind of store that has been expected for some time in this market.

Shoppers at the Sainsbury’s Local convenience store at Holborn Circus, London, can now use the supermarket’s SmartShop, Scan, Pay & Go smartphone app to scan their groceries as they go around the store. They pay in the app and scan a QR code before they leave, reassuring them that they have paid. There’s no need either to queue or to pay at a till. 

The tills have been removed from the store, which will operate without them for the next three months as an experiment. 

Inside a till-free store

The range available at the till-free store has been tailored to the needs of those buying to eat on-the-go. Food from drinks to breakfast pots, pastries and sandwiches can be quickly picked up, scanned and, at the end of the visit, paid for in the app. Hot drinks will be available from a self-service coffee machine. 

By removing the tills, staff will be freed up to spend their time helping customers and keeping shelves stocked, says Sainsbury’s. There will also be a helpdesk for those who prefer to pay by cash or card. Currently 82% of transactions in this store are already cashless. 

The wider context

Such till-free stores have been expected to arrive in the UK since Amazon first opened its Amazon Go store in Seattle in January 2018. Rumours that Amazon would open in the UK have circulated regularly ever since, while grocers including WaitroseSainsbury’s, Tesco and the Co-op have launched or trialled apps that enable shoppers to pay in-store via their mobile. 

But the news that Sainsbury’s is the first in this country to remove its tills altogether will give the grocer a fillip, days after it and Asda last week cancelled their proposed merger in the face of rejection of the plan from the UK’s Competition and Mergers Authority (CMA). Sainsbury’s first launched in-app mobile payments in its stores last August, and the technology is now in use in eight of its convenience stores across London.

The store seems likely to be popular: a MuleSoft study last year found that most shoppers would like to use an Amazon Go type store. But app data, customer and staff feedback will help to inform any improvements before the service is rolled out more widely.

Sainsbury’s Group chief digital officer, Clodagh Moriarty, said “We know our customers value their time and many want to shop as quickly as possible – technology is key to that. This is an experiment rather than a new format for us – it hasn’t been done in the UK before and we’re really excited to understand how our customers respond to the app experience. We’ll be with our customers and colleagues all the way over the coming months, iterating continuously based on their feedback before we decide if, how and where we make this experience more widely available.”

Meanwhile, Sainsbury’s sister company Argos on Friday launched its first self-service store, at Dulwich, London. Shoppers there browse and pay for an item via in-store tablets before picking up their order at a new type of collection pod. As with the Sainsbury’s example, the new format enables staff to to spend time helping customers and bringing items for collection. 

Sainsbury’s Argos chief executive John Rogers, said: “Having launched nearly 300 Argos stores in Sainsbury’s supermarkets, we’re making it easier and more convenient for customers to do more of their shopping under one roof. We’re continuing to test innovative new formats and with the launch of our first self-service digital store we’re offering shoppers a speedier way to pay and giving our colleagues more time to serve and help customers. We’re excited to hear what they think of our latest in-store innovation.”

However the retailer still retains tills in these stores for those shoppers who want to buy using cash and cards. The news comes as Sainsbury’s Argos says it has turned over £2 billion in sales generated through customers shopping on smartphones and tablets for the first time. Customers shopping on smartphones and tablets now account for more than 70% of all Argos online sales – making it the retailer’s fastest growing channel – and across Sainsbury’s Group, £4.7 billion sales are now generated online. 

Sainsbury’s is an Elite retailer in IRUK Top500 research.

Image courtesy of Sainsbury’s

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