Sainsbury’s has changed one of its central London branches into the UK’s first till-free grocery store. It lets shoppers pay with their smartphone and walk out of the shop without going through a checkout.
Customers use the supermarket’s Smartshop app to scan groceries as they walk round the store, bag them and then pay in the app via Google Pay or Apple Pay, scanning a code to confirm payment.
The store – a Sainsbury’s Local convenience outlet at Holborn Circus bordering the City of London – has been refurbished for the three-month trial, with the checkout area and the bank of tills at the front of the shop removed.
It will still accept payments by card and cash, but shoppers preferring more traditional ways to pay will have to use a helpdesk manned by a single member of staff. More than 80% of transactions in the store were already cashless – a key reason it was selected for the pilot.
The food and drink ranges have been revamped for office workers buying breakfast or lunch and other food to eat on the go.
Beer, wine and spirits, cigarettes and tobacco have been removed from the shop, as they all require time-consuming age verification by a member of staff.
Till-free stores have been tipped to arrive in the UK since Amazon opened its first “shop and walk out” Amazon Go store in Seattle in January 2018. The Amazon stores use cameras and sensors to track what each shopper buys and then debits a payment card held on file as they exit. Speculation has been rife that Amazon plans to open Go shops in the UK, while supermarkets such as Waitrose, Sainsbury’s, the Co-op and Tesco have all launched or trialled apps that enable shoppers to pay via mobile phone.
As the peak lunchtime rush began on Monday, staff who would normally be at the checkouts were on the shop floor to explain the new system to shoppers. Posters in the windows read: ‘Get ready to trial our first mobile pay only store.’
The queue to the helpdesk for those choosing to pay with cash or a conventional card was 15-strong. “I’m a luddite,” admitted Tom Chadwick, who works locally in the wine industry. “I do get that this is the future in terms of payment but I didn’t sign up. I prefer to have the choice of cash or card and I queued up today to pay with my contactless card.”
However, Toby Vinnell, a database designer with Trainline, learned about the scheme via his work messageboard and had prepared in advance by downloading Sainsbury’s app. “I had to set up Google Pay which took about five minutes but that was no hassle. Cash is definitely on the way out.”
Meanwhile, a beaming woman declared the system “easy to use and a complete timesaver” – before brandishing her orange lanyard to reveal that she worked for Sainsbury’s customer support centre.
Sainsbury’s was the first UK supermarket to launch in-app mobile payments to customers in a grocery store – in August last year – and the technology is being trialled in eight Local convenience stores across London. The new trial takes this a step further by being the first to remove traditional checkouts.
“We know our customers value their time and many want to shop as quickly as possible,” said Sainsbury’s group chief digital officer Clodagh Moriarty. “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.”
Moriarty said feedback from shoppers would dictate “how and where we make this experience more widely available”.
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