Morrison prepares to unveil shop without staff: supermarket that allows customers to directly put in their bags and go out
The boss of supermarket Morrisons is close to unveiling an unmanned store that allows customers to put items in and out of their bags directly off the shelves.
The grocery giant – which is currently at the center of a takeover battle – has been working on the plan in secret for more than a year and is likely to launch a pilot store to the public ‘within months’.
For this, customers will have to download an app on their smartphone, which will have to be scanned at the time of entry.
In the Bag: Morrisons’ planned new store, inset, won’t even require shoppers to scan their groceries
Digital cameras then track where shoppers are in the store and record what items they put in their bags.
The initial concept, nicknamed Project Sarah, is a compact version of the store and is designed to be ‘transportable’ – meaning the entire shop unit can be dropped directly into each location.
The transportable design means it can be located in areas that are not readily accessible to Morrisons stores, such as in university campuses or train stations, as well as on urban high streets.
It is understood that later versions of the store, currently being tested at the grocery giant’s head office in Bradford, West Yorkshire, may be larger than the initial test model. The ‘Just Walk Out’ concept could also be developed into a definitive brick-and-mortar stop, but it is unclear whether this has yet been decided.
A source said Morrison’s plans for the store’s first public appearance are already being worked out and others will follow before the end of the year.
Tesco is working on a similar project which is set to become a race among Britain’s biggest retailers to open the first ‘frictionless’ store this autumn.
The developments follow the launch of the first Amazon Fresh store in Ealing, West London, earlier this year, which was first reported on Sunday in The Mail.
Others across the capital flocked to Chalk Farms, Canary Wharf, White City and Wembley Shoppers to try out the concept, the first site opening. A source familiar with the Morrison plan told The Mail on Sunday: ‘It’s not just a toe in the water. This is a realistic plan and will form part of the company’s growth strategy. Tesco is also testing technology that doesn’t rely on staff and checkout at a functioning shop at its Welwyn Garden City headquarters in Hertfordshire.
It is said to be planning its first public site in an ‘urban environment’ this autumn.
The arrival of unmanned shops may raise concerns about the future of shop workers, who only need to clean and store shelves in stores.
Amazon said its Fresh stores were designed to make shopping “as convenient as possible.” Matt Burch, who heads up Amazon Fresh Stores UK, said: ‘We believe that UK customers want to shop in a convenient way, so we really think they’re going to be able to walk in and walk out with the purchase they need. Would appreciate.’
However, unions reacted with disappointment to the development of the American technology giant.
‘We can use new technology to benefit shoppers and employees, but this is not the way to do it. “Too often retailers are dazzled by new technology chasing solutions to problems that don’t exist,” said Paddy Lillis, secretary general of the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers, USDAW.
Events unfold as Morrison’s circle of bidders. The supermarket has accepted a £6.3 billion offer from a consortium led by private equity firm Fortress.
It is understood rival bidders Clayton, Dubilier & Rice are working on a potential counter bid and have drafted it to work with Goldman Sachs as an advisor at JPMorgan. An initial deadline for a firm offer from CD&R was set for this weekend, but the date has been pushed back after formal terms and conditions agreed with Fort. Another private equity firm Apollo is also eyeing a possible offer.
Investors have already demanded more money for the grocery chain.