Convenience store giant 7-Eleven has announced it is testing a “cashierless” concept at its corporate headquarters in Irving, TX.
The 700-square-foot, non-traditional store currently stocks some of the chain’s most popular food, drink and non-food products. The pilot program is only open to company employees who use 7-Eleven’s mobile app to check into the store, pay for items and receive their receipts.
Photo by Tim Boyle/Getty Images
In an online discussion last week, the pilot represented a step in the right direction to some of the industry experts on the RetailWire BrainTrust.
“This is a smart move for 7-Eleven,” wrote Ken Cassar, vice president of research at ShopTalk.”Profits from this store will undoubtedly not cover the tech development costs, but it allows them to hone important AI/machine learning/computer vision skills, observe consumer response and create an informed strategy for what’s next. And I do believe that cashierless checkout is the future in the convenience sector.”
For some it represented a breath of fresh air in a sector of retailing in need of technological enhancement.
“A commitment to digital technologies is a competitive difference that is currently causing massive disruption in the channel,” wrote Bethany Allee, executive vice president of marketing at Cybera. “In addition to being the leading innovators in the space, 7-Eleven has the respect and credibility needed to make things happen in this extremely tight knit community.”
… this technology could be a source of differentiation and points to the fact that they can react quickly to tech disruptions.
And for some it even offered the potential to set the stage for the future of the c-store.
“7-Eleven’s commitment to digital technologies will be a competitive advantage,” wrote Harley Feldman, CMO of Seeonic, Inc. “Some of their ideas are getting to be table stakes in the convenience market — frictionless shopping experience, healthy foods and predictive analytics.”
“Developing algorithms and technology in-house is even more impressive,” wrote Suresh Chaganti, executive partner at Vector Science. “That means this technology could be a source of differentiation and points to the fact that they can react quickly to tech disruptions.”
The company says it is using proprietary “algorithms and predictive technology” to identify the market baskets of individual customers.
“This in-house, custom-built technology by 7-Eleven engineers is designed for our current and future customers,” said Mani Suri, 7-Eleven senior vice president and chief information officer, in a statement. “We continue to innovate, and coupling fresh, innovative, healthy food options with a frictionless shopping experience could be a game-changer.”
The pilot store is being held up by 7-Eleven as one of many ways the convenience store brand is innovating. Joe DePinto, president and CEO of 7-Eleven, pointed to the company’s 7Rewards loyalty platform, its 7NOW on-demand delivery and mobile checkout pilot as examples of digital innovations that are transforming the experiences of customers across the U.S.
Opinions varied, however, as to whether this type of innovation is what customers are looking for, and how far cashierless technology can go.
“Honestly, I am not convinced that consumers are clamoring for cashierless convenience stores,” wrote Dave Bruno, director of retail market insight at Aptos. “I have not heard much of an outcry about long wait times for morning coffee and donuts. And beyond reduced wait times, I don’t really see much benefit to the shopper.”
“If cashierless technology will work anywhere, it will be in convenience stores,” wrote John Karolesfki, editor of CPGMatters. “… I do not believe cashierless technology will ever succeed in mainstream supermarkets — too many SKUs, too much bagging by shoppers, too costly for grocers.”
The cashierless prototype is not the first for the 7-Eleven brand. The Japanese-owned chain began testing a similar concept in Tokyo in 2018 as a result of a severe labor shortage in the country.
Mr. Bruno, despite being skeptical about the technology, noted that it was something 7-Eleven could at the very least learn from.
“The question is whether the retailer benefits from detailed basket and shopping behavior analytics justify the big costs,” wrote Mr. Bruno.