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This automated store in Sweden doesn’t have any human employees — only a smartphone app

Self check-out lines have become a fairly common at grocery stores these days, but Swedish IT specialist Robert Ilijason owns a store that takes the idea to the extreme. At his convenience store in the town of Viken, Sweden, you won’t find a single cashier — or even a cash register for that matter. The entire store is unmanned, and patrons must use a smartphone or tablet to enter and purchase goods from it.

The store’s origin story, as AP tells it, goes something like this: A couple years ago, Ilijason was trying to feed his fussy infant son in the middle of the night, but after accidentally dropping the last jar of baby food on the floor, he was forced to drive 20 minutes across town to find a supermarket that was still open. Frustrated by the inconvenience, he then decided to open a shop that could stay open around the clock.

To make this possible, Ilijason decided to forego staffing his store with human employees, and designed it to function nearly autonomously. Customers are required to register for the service and download a smartphone app, which they can then use to unlock the door and scan items they wish to buy. At the end of each month, the app sends out an invoice to charge users for their purchases.

Ilijason hopes that this kind of staff-free grocery store will help bring small local grocery stores back to Sweden’s small villages, which have gradually died off over the past decade as large supermarkets have set up shop in neighboring towns. “My ambition is to spread this idea to other villages and small towns,” Ilijason told AP. “It is incredible that no one has thought of his before.”

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Of course, running the store does require a little bit of human involvement. When inventory starts getting low, Ilijason has to go in and manually restock everything — but after that he lets his patrons and their smartphones take over. The store’s unique app-enabled operation means that he doesn’t really need to worry about anything else — including security.

The 480-square-foot building sports six surveillance cameras to keep an eye on customers, but the store’s compulsory registration inherently discourages theft, since user information is logged in the app every time they enter the store. Ilijason will also get a text message alert if the front door of the store stays open for longer than eight seconds, or if someone tries to break in. “I live nearby and can always run down here with a crowbar,” Ilijason said jokingly, but added that this hasn’t been necessary yet since the store opened in January.

Operations have been going smoothly for nearly two months now, but apparently running a store that doesn’t have employees comes with its own unique set of hurdles. One of Ilijason’s biggest challenges thus far has reportedly been getting some of the town’s tech-challenged elderly residents to get involved. He’s still mulling over different ideas right now, but he’s considered having a single person man the store for a few hours per day to help customers who might have trouble figuring out the technology.

He’s still got a few kinks to work out, but if this catches on, brick-and-mortar retail could look a heck of a lot different in the not-so-distant future.