This cropped image of an Amazon Go store in Seattle via wikipedia user Sikander Iqbal
Written by John Lindt
Computer scientist Aamir A. Farooqui plans to open a 1,800 square-foot, fully automated convenience store, similar to those Amazon has launched in larger urban areas.
Based in Sacramento, Farooqui said his new concept store is the first-of-its-kind in the Central Valley, and he hopes to duplicate it elsewhere.
An automated convenience store is a typical convenience store that operates without a cashier, and instead relies on computers and robotics. Amazon calls it “just walk out” shopping.
The new, as yet-unnamed Visalia store will be built at 707 S Bridge St., in the middle of the city in a neighborhood of modest homes, next to a second-hand store. Farooqui bought the vacant parcel last year. Not the fanciest part of town, it may be the perfect spot to test the idea that there is demand for this kind of shopping experience.
The developer is seeking a conditional-use permit from the city for the new store.
“In our model we will be using a new type of vending machine equipped with WiFi and cameras. People can buy merchandise using cash (after converting to gift cards), credit or debit cards, or through a mobile app,” Farooqui said. “At the store opening, we plan to give away 100 free gift cards to our first customers.”
These kinds of stores have taken off in Europe, where they go by the names of SmartMart and RoboMart. Farooqui said he has yet to choose a name for the Visalia outlet he hopes to open as soon as possible.
Not having on-site employees will allow the business to save money, although it may take shoppers time to get used to a new routine using digital technology that would eliminate cashiers and checkout lines from stores.
“Our goal is simply to reduce the cost of running a store for small businesses and at the same time, offer 24-hour convenient service to the local community.”
While the new Visalia store will not be big job producer, shelf stockers will be needed.
Higher minimum wage rates in California and elsewhere could be helping this trend accelerate, though grocers are always trying to cut employee expenses. Walmart recently announced intentions to get rid of “greeters” at store entrances. There are almost 5 million grocery clerk jobs in the US.
A recent description of shopping at an automated Amazon Go store: “You simply walk in, grab what you need, and go. Amazon bills your credit card as you pass through the turnstile on your way out. Moments later, an app in your phone provides a receipt detailing what you’ve bought, what you paid, and even how long you spent inside.”
Amazon just announced it will open its third cashier-less store in San Francisco this year, with young people a typical shopper.
Grocery stores are automating the shopping experience, led by Walmart and Sam’s Club. The Visalia Walmart is installing more automated checkout devices, and Sam’s Club wants to allow shoppers to scan products by holding their smartphones over a product without having to find and capture a barcode on the package.
Microsoft is said to be developing technology that can track what shoppers add to their carts.
Meanwhile, Target is changing item pickup service at the stores with Pickup Towers, where the in-store process is automated.