Sainsbury's goes till-free in central London store

UK supermarket Sainsbury’s has today opened what it describes as the UK’s first “till-free grocery store”.

Sainsbury’s Local in Holborn Circus, central London, has been refurbished to be mobile-first and checkout-free, and customers using it are required to scan and pay for their groceries using the SmartShop Scan, Pay & Go app.

The move is part of a three-month experiment to help further develop its self-service mobile app technology, which is already on offer in eight convenience stores across the UK. Learnings and customer feedback from the operations at the Holborn store will be used by the retailer when potentially rolling out the technology more widely in due course.

Essential Retail has covered in detail the developments surrounding Sainsbury’s mobile pay and scan and go technology.

Consumers using the app can scan their groceries as they go around the store, pay in the app and scan a QR code before leaving which reassures them that they have paid.

The technology has been implemented to help reduce queues at tills, and it partly imitates the Amazon Go model, which has been launched in several shops in the US. Major grocers around the world are continually looking at ways to speed up the checkout process for their shoppers, as it is widely viewed as an in-store operational pain point.

Sainsbury’s said the removal of the checkout areas has freed up store colleagues to spend their time on the shop floor, and they are encouraged to help customers and keep the shelves fully stocked. Although the mobile app method is being pushed, the store will have a helpdesk to support anyone who wishes to pay with cash or cards.

The retailer said that 82% of transactions in the Holborn convenience store are cashless.

The range of products available at the store has been tailored specifically for busy customers buying breakfast or lunch and other food to eat on-the-go. There is also a self-service coffee machine in the shop, serving hot drinks to go.

Sainsbury’s group chief digital officer, Clodagh Moriarty, commented: “We know our customers value their time and many want to shop as quickly as possible – technology is key to that.

“This is an experiment rather than a new format for us – it hasn’t been done in the UK before and we’re really excited to understand how our customers respond to the app experience. We’ll be with our customers and colleagues all the way over the coming months, iterating continuously based on their feedback before we decide if, how and where we make this experience more widely available."

Last week, the Competition and Markets Authority formally blocked the proposed merger of Sainsbury’s and Asda. Not getting the deal through after one year of talks and planning came as a significant blow to both businesses, and it leaves the two retailers looking to build new strategies following the distractions of the failed merger.

The competition regulator concluded that shoppers would be worse off if the deal went ahead due to what it claimed would be a likely increase in prices and a reduction in product choice. Sainsbury's and Asda argued the combined companies would have been in a position to provide a better proposition for UK customers.