A Swedish entrepreneur has created a convenience store in Sweden with no staff. The 45-square-metre shop, called Näraffär (which means ‘nearby place’), is located in the village of Viken, Malmo, and is open 24-7 – to anyone who can download the app you need to enter and make purchases.
The app is linked to the customer’s bank account, and runs a credit check before allowing entry. It uses the phone’s camera as a barcode scanner, and issues a bill at the end of each month. There’s no check-out: scanned items can be bagged on the spot. Six surveillance cameras ward against shoplifting.
Owner Robert Illjason checks the stock and fills the shelves once a week. No alcohol, drugs or tobacco are sold.
Threats to jobs and lack of human contact are the first criticisms levelled at Illjason’s store. Illjason replies that as the business grows, jobs will be created in delivery and stock management across multiple outlets. The concept responds to the market gap left by the closure of village shops who lost their custom to large, out-of-town supermarkets. By minimising the staffing cost, Illjason hopes to bring local stores back into business.
The lack of human contact has been a barrier to entry (literally!) for some elderly residents in the village, who have reportedly struggled with the technology. With ageing populations across Europe, this is an obstacle Illjason is seeking to overcome: one option is employing someone for select hours to help them out.
The question is, how much do we value those daily interactions in stores? In cities, they may be negligible encounters; in small villages with long-term residents, they can be an important source of daily contact, neighbourly support and even friendship.
The motivation behind the concept was convenience: Illjason was looking for baby food late at night when he had the idea. Amazon is after the same market with its drone-delivery ‘Prime Air’ concept system. Automated road deliveries are another option.
The sustainability of all these options really depends on what is being bought: if it’s something that enhances our health, diet and overall wellbeing, that’s one thing; if it’s something that funnels too many resources into too minimal a reward, that’s another.