In recent years, the decline of rural shops seemed unstoppable. However, the situation has changed, and now the villages are leading the way in shopping trends with the help of modern technologies. Automated self-service stores are rapidly expanding, even in urban areas.
One such example is Bítovany, a village in the Chrudim district, where a fully automated store called Fééér has revitalized the community. With a population of 430, the village now enjoys the convenience of a store that operates in a fully automated mode most days, only having a human attendant during the mornings. Customers can enter the store, weigh their produce, scan barcodes, and make payments using a digital identity provided by most Czech banks and a mobile app called DoKapsy.
The success of Bítovany’s automated store has encouraged other communities to adopt a similar model. COOP, the Union of Czech and Moravian Consumer Cooperatives, has recently opened a partially automated store in Strakonice, proving that this concept is not limited to rural areas. The store operates with regular staff during the day and then switches to automated mode in the evening, allowing customers to shop anytime. The registration process for customers in these stores involves the same method used in Bítovany.
The introduction of automated stores has not only provided convenience for customers but has also helped to sustain small businesses in rural areas. Many villages rely on subsidies and public support to keep their local shops open. The subsidies often used to reduce labor costs have significantly slowed the decline of rural shops. Furthermore, the success of these stores has demonstrated that automated systems can reduce operating costs while maintaining a high level of service.
Olga Dvořáková, a masseuse and local council member, took over the temporarily abandoned store in Bítovany and transformed it into an automated store using the Contio system developed by ArrowSys. She saw the potential of combining traditional shopping with modern technology to create an efficient and self-sufficient store. However, finding suppliers willing to deliver to a small village has been challenging.
While automated stores offer convenience and independence, some may question their vulnerability to theft. However, strict registration and surveillance measures, including digital identities and cameras, ensure the integrity of the shopping experience. Ultimately, it is up to individual conscience to maintain honesty when using these self-service stores.
The success of automated stores in revitalizing rural communities proves that modern technology can play a crucial role in sustaining local businesses. By combining convenience, cost-effectiveness, and community support, these stores have become an essential part of rural life. As more communities embrace this model, the future of rural shops looks brighter than ever.