Tesco is fighting back against Amazon with its first “just walk out” store, where it is possible to buy groceries without having to scan items or visit a till.
The supermarket’s GetGo store in Holborn, central London, follows a small trial of a similar store at Tesco head office in Welwyn Garden City, which has been selling goods to the retailer’s staff since 2019.
Weight sensors in the shelves work with an AI system that can track an individual’s movement around the store and monitor the items they pick up via cameras, which follow each shopper. The AI system works by building a unique skeleton outline of each person rather than using facial recognition.
Shoppers must download the Tesco.com app to use the store, where they check in by scanning a QR code generated on their phone. Once inside, shoppers can pick up the items they want without scanning them. The bill is automatically charged to a shopper’s Tesco account when they leave.
The shop looks very similar to any other Tesco Express convenience store with the usual range of goods, from fresh flowers and alcohol to sandwiches, ready meals and bakery items. Cigarettes and alcohol are sold in a separate zone where a member of staff, about a dozen of whom are on duty on any day, is present to check that shoppers meet age restrictions.
The AI technology in the Holborn store has been developed in partnership with the specialist technology firm Trigo, led by two scientists who previously worked in the Israel Defence Forces. It is the first time it has been used by a UK retailer.
Tesco GetGo opens just over six months after Amazon launched its first till-less grocery store in the UK, in Ealing, west London. The US retail and technology group now has six of the Amazon Fresh outlets in the capital and is expected to open at least four more, including one almost opposite Tesco’s Holborn outlet.
Sainsbury’s opened a till-free store nearby in 2019, but the outlet closed a few months later after shoppers found scanning items with their phones too clunky. Tesco is hoping that its efforts to make it easy to sign up to its grocery app, which already has 6.5 million regular users, will help make its version more popular.
Kevin Tindall, the managing director of Tesco’s convenience store business, said: “We are constantly looking for ways to improve the shopping experience and our latest innovation offers a seamless checkout for customers on the go, helping them to save a bit more time. This is currently just a one-store trial but we’re looking forward to seeing how our customers respond.”
Commenting on the announcement, Sachin Jangam, Partner for Retail, Infosys Consulting: “Walk out stores are a natural progression of the changes we’ve already seen in retail. Stores have moved from all staffed tills to self-checkouts, and more recently, scan on the go. Considering the stages of this evolution so far, it’s clear that ‘just walk out’ will be the future.
“With Tesco opening its first checkout-free store later today, it seems the transition to ‘just walk out’ models is being led by the Big 4. This is not surprising, given their ability to make significant technology investments, and sheer store format size and overall product density on the shelves. However, this model is far more suited to the high street convenience stores owned by the Big 4, rather than their large super stores.
“For now, the main clientele continues to be curious shoppers and tourists. The overall economics of store operations are still in question, given the reduced product range, high rental costs, and significant technology investments required. ‘Just walk out’ will likely remain in a trial period for the next few years, before we start to see mass rollouts. Beyond technology, leaders will be paying close attention to store profitability before putting money behind this innovation.”