A Swedish company is using self-checkout tech to bring small, staff-free grocery stores to underserved rural communities
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Spotted: Those living in Sweden’s rural areas enjoy beautiful and peaceful scenery. But what they don’t have, is easy access to groceries, and the ability to pop out to the corner shop for a pint of milk. In fact, the number of supermarkets in Sweden has declined from 8,500 in 1985, to fewer than 3,500 by 2010. Many rural areas have no local shopping at all. Swedish startup Lifvs is changing this with its fleet of small, unattended food stores.
Lifvs currently operates around 27 stores, and hopes to double this number in two years. Its shops are installed in containers, so they can be easily installed almost anywhere, and moved if the economics of a location don’t work out. Stores are either 300 or 500 square feet and stock around 500 goods, including essentials like meat, salads, vegetables and ice cream. The store interiors have a similar feel and branding to a normal supermarket. But this is not a normal supermarket.
The major difference is that all Lifvs stores are unstaffed – shoppers use a mobile app to gain entry to a store, scan bar codes of the products they want and to pay for their selections. This arrangement allows one member of staff to oversee four or five stores, making it economical to have stores in villages with very small populations. The stores operate 24 hours a day and some are also equipped with lockers to let customers pick up orders placed online.
Unlike Amazon Go stores, Lifvs are not filled with cameras monitoring shoppers’ every move. Instead, the company relies on the the assumption that residents of small, tight-knit communities will not leave its stores without paying, although, security cameras are used to flag suspicious behavior. Daniel Lundh, founder and CEO of the company explains the rationale behind the stores, saying, “We saw there was definitely a need for this type of service, but to be able to survive on a much lower customer base, we needed to be able to control our cost of operations to at least keep some margin and have a price point that’s acceptable for the consumer.”
The unstaffed store may have sounded a strange at first, but the idea appears to be catching on. In fact, the shopping experience is already being transformed, with innovations ranging from automated systems for smaller shops to the proliferation of self-checkout apps.
Written By: Lisa Magloff