Bosses at supermarket Morrisons close to unveiling unmanned store that allows customers to put items straight from shelves into their bags, and walk out
Bosses at supermarket Morrisons are close to unveiling an unmanned store that allows customers to put items straight from shelves into their bags, and walk out.
The grocery giant – which is currently at the centre of a takeover battle – has been secretly working on the plan for more than a year and is likely to launch a pilot store to the public ‘within months’.
It will require customers to download an app on to their smartphone which must be scanned on entry.
In the bag: Shoppers won’t even need to scan their groceries at Morrisons’ planned new stores, inset
Digital cameras then track where shoppers are in the store and record which items they place in their bags.
The initial concept, nicknamed Project Sarah, is a compact version of the store and is designed to be ‘transportable’ – which means the entire shop unit can be dropped directly into each location.
The transportable design means it could be located in areas not easily accessible for Morrisons stores, such as university campuses or in train stations, as well as on urban high streets.
It is understood that later versions of the shop, currently being tested at the grocery giant’s head office in Bradford, West Yorkshire, may be bigger than the initial test model. The ‘just walk out’ concept could also be developed as a fixed bricks-and-mortar stop, but it is not clear whether that has yet been decided.
A source said Morrisons’ plans for the first public appearance of the store are already being prepared and others would follow before the year end.
Tesco has been working on a similar project in what looks set to become a race between Britain’s largest retailers to get the first ‘frictionless’ store open this autumn.
The developments follow the launch of the first Amazon Fresh store in Ealing, West London, earlier this year, which was first reported in The Mail on Sunday.
Others have followed across the capital in Chalk Farm, Canary Wharf, White City and Wembley Shoppers flocked to the opening of the first site to try out the concept. A source familiar with the Morrisons plan told The Mail on Sunday: ‘This is not just a toe in the water. This is a genuine plan and will form part of the company’s growth strategy.’ Tesco is also testing technology that doesn’t rely on staff and checkouts at a working shop in 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 stores is likely to raise concerns about the future for shop staff, who are only needed in the shops to restock shelves and clean up.
Amazon said its Fresh stores had been designed to make shopping ‘as convenient at possible’. Matt Birch, who leads Amazon Fresh Stores UK, said: ‘We recognise that UK customers want to shop in a convenient way, so we really think they will appreciate being able to walk in and walk out with the shopping they need.’
However, unions reacted with dismay to the development at the US technology giant.
‘We can use new technology for the benefit of shoppers and staff, but this is not the way to do it. All too often retailers are dazzled by new technology, chasing solutions to problems that don’t exist,’ said Paddy Lillis, General Secretary of USDAW, the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers.
The developments unfold as bidders circle Morrisons. The supermarket has accepted a £6.3billion offer from a consortium led by private equity firm Fortress.
It is understood that rival bidder Clayton, Dubilier & Rice is working on a possible counter bid and has drafted in JPMorgan to work alongside Goldman Sachs as advisers. An initial deadline set for a firm offer from CD&R was set for this weekend but the date has since been pushed back following the formal terms and conditions agreed with Fortress. Another private equity firm, Apollo, is also eyeing a possible offer.
Investors have already demanded more money for the grocery chain.