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Sainsbury’s removed checkouts at one grocery store. Now it’s putting some back

One of the U.K’s biggest grocery chains recently launched the nation’s first checkout-free store. Customers scan their items and pay for their shop using a smartphone app, doing away with the need to wait at a checkout. But the trial of the technology hasn’t quite gone according to plan.

Sainsbury’s said this week that while many customers made full use of the system, others wanted to pay for their items at the store’s help desk, causing long lines in the process.

As a result, the store has recently reinstalled a manned checkout and two self-service checkouts for those wishing to pay for their goods using more familiar methods, though customers who want to scan and pay using the app can continue to do so.

Sainsbury’s launched its checkout-free store in central London in April 2019 as a three-month trial. It actually has eight other stores offering the same scan-as-you-go technology, but they never got rid of their checkouts.

“An experiment, rather than a new format for us, we wanted to put the technology to the test in a [checkout-free] environment to understand how our customers respond to the experience,” the company wrote in a post on its website.

It said that while the trial was well received by many shoppers, “it’s clear that not all our customers are ready for a totally [checkout-free] store,” noting how long lines could form during peak times as people waited to pay at the help desk.

Sainsbury’s insisted it would use what it learned from the trial to further develop its technology as it looks for ways to make the shopping experience more convenient for all of its customers.

Amazon Go

Anyone who’s been to a checkout-free Amazon Go store will be well aware that Sainsbury’s system works in a completely different way.

Amazon Go tracks a customer’s movements using cameras and sensors, while Sainsbury’s requires shoppers to use a smartphone app to scan each item as they make their way around.

The main advantage for Sainsbury’s is that its system can be easily installed at existing stores and requires zero investment in sophisticated tracking technology.

Interestingly, Amazon Go is also making plans to accept cash payments, but for very different reasons. In Amazon’s case, the decision came amid growing criticism that checkout-free stores discriminate against those without a bank account or smartphone, both of which are needed to shop at an Amazon Go store.

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