Are checkout-free stores the future of grocery shopping?

Carrefour has opened its first checkout-free store in Dubai. — AFP Relaxnews

Checkout-free stores are continuing to open all over the world. After Amazon and Casino as well as a test and announcement from Tesco, Carrefour is now launching one such outlet in Dubai. Promising faster shopping, and with minimal contact – a boon in Covid times – these supermarkets of the future work thanks to camera-based recognition and artificial intelligence.

French retailer Carrefour has decided to open its first checkout-free store in the future looking city of Dubai, in the Mall of the Emirates. This bold move is powered by artificial intelligence, allowing the retail giant to eliminate all traditional checkouts and simplify the shopping experience for its customers

In this supermarket, 97 cameras monitor each customer to identify products, manage stock and respond to customer flow. All products are identified and pre-registered in the store database. For the moment, the number of items available in the store remains quite limited, at 1,300 products. And, to ensure that the complex IT systems don't get overloaded, the mini-market can't accommodate too many people at once.

Although Carrefour has previously opened stores where customers scan their items, rather than using a traditional checkout, as have other grocery retailers this AI-powered CarrefourCity+ is a first for the company. Here, shopping is even simpler. Access to the store and payment for goods are both managed via the Carrefour mobile application. The relevant amount is then automatically debited from a pre-registered card. For this latest project, Carrefour seems largely inspired by its main competitor in checkout-free shopping, Amazon Go.

“Carrefour City+ has been designed to make life easier by using technology to remove friction and enhance the retail experience. The store represents a huge leap forwards for retail in the UAE and region as Carrefour continues to innovate to meet the needs of the present whilst anticipating future shopping trends," explains Hani Weiss, CEO at Majid Al Futtaim Retail.

A checkout-free future?

The store's customers are identified without using facial recognition, but by their body structure, and artificial intelligence designed by the automated retail technology company, AiFi. The firm works with other unmanned stores, such as Wundermart and AH To Go. According to AiFi, clients use no facial recognition and no biometric data is recorded as part of the store's functioning.

In France – Carrefour’s home turf – certain initiatives are already springing up, such as the Storelift startup’s Boxy concept, a 100% automated supermarket with no checkout, but offering only 300 products. The Casino group also recently opened its autonomous “black boxes”. In China, this kind of store has been growing rapidly since the pandemic, reflecting a way of life that’s increasingly being accepted by consumers.

For Dubai, it’s a new step towards a totally digital future – autonomous and frictionless for some, but devoid of social contact for others. Either way, such initiatives are growing, and the pandemic is no doubt gradually nudging this kind of project towards greater acceptance among consumers. – AFP Relaxnews

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