In an age of social distancing, the biggest challenge in shopping at a grocery store is waiting in line to check out. But a major supermarket is now beginning to experiment with contactless payment—the first grocery chain in the U.S. to begin using the tech after Amazon pioneered cashier-less retail.
Giant Eagle, a company that owns 216 supermarkets and more than 250 convenience stores, largely in Ohio and western Pennsylvania, is launching checkout-free technology from the startup Grabango first at a store in Pittsburgh. When customers choose to shop with an app, the tech uses cameras to track what they’re buying. When they’re ready to leave, they just scan a code in the app and walk out the door.
The supermarket chain began considering the technology a few years ago as it studied how retail is changing globally. “It became pretty clear to us that in China, in particular, the concept of contactless shopping was taking hold and emerging as a real thing,” says Giant Eagle CEO Laura Karet. Then, in early 2018, Amazon Go opened its first store to the public. “That raised everyone’s eyebrows and we said, Oh my God, this is serious,” she says. “We’ve got to get going.” The company partnered with Grabango to begin developing the technology.
The store in Pittsburgh is the first true retrofit of an existing store with this type of technology in the U.S., the companies say. The tech will soon roll out at a larger 100,000-square-foot store nearby, to be followed by others. While COVID-19 wasn’t the impetus for the change, “I do expect that it will speed up adoption because the interest in contactless has grown exponentially,” says Karet. It can help protect both customers and employees working in checkout lanes, as clerks will work with fewer customers. It’s unlikely, though, to fully replace traditional checkout any time soon. “I think for at least the foreseeable future, it will be a hybrid of traditional and contactless,” she says.