Contactless checkout: Why it's coming to the bodega before the chain store

COVID-19 has hastened the rollout of a new generation of autonomous retail checkout, and you just might find it at the corner store.
Written by Greg Nichols, Contributing Writer

Autonomous checkout is a new reality, which doesn't require any physical scanning of objects, is fast becoming a reality. What's surprising is that the capability may be coming to the small corner stores before it hits major grocery chains. 

COVID-19 has certainly hastened development and rollout of the technology. Where I live in Los Angeles, it's striking how popular corner stores during the frenzied early days of the pandemic when lines at super markets sometimes stretched around the block. Since then, a new "touchless" reality has set in, and developers are keen to capitalize.

I recently wrote about a company called Standard, which is bringing autonomous checkout to college campuses with an emphasis on retrofitting existing retail concepts. There have also been novel checkout technologies that utilize an AI-powered shopping cart to clock which items customers are nabbing. Caper, creators of one such cart, recently expanded its product line of autonomous retail technology with something called Caper Counter, a cashierless countertop designed for mini marts under ten thousand feet. The technology provides autonomous checkout to keep customers and employees safe and minimize human interaction while shopping, and, crucially, it's completely plug-and-play, meaning it's not difficult to deploy in existing spaces.

"COVID accelerated the need for autonomous checkout, and the demand from retailers for technology solutions has increased exponentially. The Caper Counter builds on our momentum with the success of Caper Cart by providing the same AI technologies in a smaller format for mini markets and smaller-footprint retailers," says Lindon Gao, CEO and co-founder of Caper. "The Caper Cart delivers a safer and more convenient checkout experience for shoppers without a major store renovation or costly infrastructure for store owners."

There's no question that the coronavirus pandemic has completely upended consumer sentiments. While tech like cashierless checkout had been making steady strides in late 2019, the renewed emphasis on sanitation from the perspective of both consumers and workers has hastened development and adoption. Data from a consumer research firm called Shekel, for example, shows that 87% of consumers want touchless checkout options

"Customers want retailers to make things easy for them with a faster and enhanced shopping experience and autonomous checkout is a priority," said  Kathleen Polsinello, Managing Director and Partner at Boston Consulting Group, Toronto. "In light of COVID and the impact on retailers, cashierless and contactless solutions that can be quickly deployed without significant costs or store renovations are likely to become the winners in the future of autonomous retail."

Grocery apps, robotic delivery, touchless checkout: We're certainly living in a moment of retail upheaval. Technology convergence is happening just as consumer sentiment is pivoting hard toward automation technologies. Among the many takeaways from the pandemic, it seems increasingly clear we're about to enter a new phase of more convenient but (by design) less personal retail.

Editorial standards