The Rise of Automated Stores in Small Towns

In recent years, finding a local store in every small town or village has become less common, apart from a pub or a parish house. Some places lacked shopkeepers, or the store was running at a loss and had to close. Only occasionally are small subsidies provided by towns or regions. The hope for change lies in fully automated stores.

One such automated store has found its way to the Hradec Králové Region. It opened in Neratov in the Orlické Mountains. Neratov is a unique place in a valley behind the main ridge of the Orlické Mountains. A small stream, the Wild Orlice, forms a border. On the other side is Poland. A pilgrimage church with a collapsed roof was condemned to extinction, as was the settlement where almost no one lived. Life returned with the arrival of a priest, Josef Suchár, who revived the pilgrimage site and led an association that employs people with health disabilities. The association includes protected workshops, a microbrewery, and now a store.

The Neratov association operated a store previously, but it was not economically viable. The only chance was the arrival of a partner, which turned out to be the COOP chain—and also solving several problems, such as connecting to the internet. Without it, the buyer cannot open the store’s doors or pay.

The store had Wi-Fi installed based on fiber optics. So, you must connect, beep through the app, and open the doors. Each buyer will be verified by bank identity, ensuring they are over 18 years old. After all, it is also possible to buy alcohol in the store.

The COOP chain currently operates about fifteen fully automated stores and plans to open another fifty by the end of next year. The Super Zoo pet supply chain also operates self-service stores in the Czech Republic. This trend was started by Amazon Go stores worldwide.