Cashierless Stores: A Fad or the Future?

Monday 29th April 2019 saw Sainsbury’s launch the first ever cashier-less convenience store in the UK. Fortunately for us, the store in Holborn Circus is located just metres away from the HIM and MCA head offices, so we paid a visit on launch day to give it a test drive and see what all the fuss is about.

Arriving at around 2pm, there was a buzz around the store, but it wasn’t too overcrowded. Staff were on hand to make sure people had the app downloaded and were ready to go. On my shopping list for today was a packet of crisps and a bottle of water. The store layout is more or less the same as before, however the removal of the tills provided a lot of extra space.

I located my items quickly, scanned them onto the app, paid and then scanned the QR code on exit. From entering the store to leaving with my items was around 2 minutes – this included some dawdling and indecision on what flavour crisps to buy. All in all, a very efficient and quick shopping experience, but it left me wondering – are people still the heartbeat of convenience or is speed of service a threat to this?

The HIM Convenience Tracking Programme 2018 identifies the key factors that drive consumers to a particular convenience store. Since 2017, there has been a slight increase, from 9.8% to 9.9%, in the proportion of shoppers who list fast speed of service/short queues as one of their key drivers to a convenience store. However, the number one driver to a convenience store is friendly and helpful staff, rising from 23.9% in 2017 to 24.1% in 2018. To nearly a quarter of shoppers, staff friendliness and helpfulness is pivotal in influencing their store destination.

Now, this is not your traditional convenience store. This particular Sainsbury’s store is heavily skewed towards food to go and not necessarily your core convenience store products. In contrast to the overall convenience market, the HIM & MCA Food To Go Market Report 2019 shows that for food to go consumers, fast service is the number one demand from consumers. The report highlights that 32% of FTG consumers state fast service as a key driver to an FTG outlet, In contrast, only 14% of FTG consumers state friendly service as a key driver to an FTG outlet.

Sainsbury’s have chosen this store as it is in an area that is a hub for professionals who want to grab something quickly in between meetings, however there will inevitably be some people that do not want the hassle of downloading an app. These people may be drawn to one of the many competitors that are within the vicinity. It is worth noting that, at the moment, the app is not the only way to pay in this particular store. There is currently a checkout, but this is set to be removed in the near future.

This is a bold move from Sainsbury’s, but will certainly have not been made on a whim. It is also important to remember that this is just a nine store trial, with no announcements of this being rolled out across further Sainsbury’s stores. However, there is demand for fast food to go and they are attempting to satisfy this. It will be interesting to see whether this trial takes off and if/how competitors react. I’ll certainly be keeping a close eye on this space…