In the district of Mladá Boleslav, an automated and unmanned store was opened on Tuesday morning. During the day, it operates like an ordinary store, with customers entering between the shelves and heading towards the counter or checkout where they are served by the staff. However, the staff ends their shift at 6 PM, but the store continues to operate.
The store is open at night, on weekends, and even on holidays. However, access is only possible through a mobile application and bank identification. Only after verification, the doors open. Customers can then shop, pay by credit card, or use their smartphone for payment before leaving.
The entire process is closely monitored by cameras, with more than twenty cameras installed in the store. Lukáš Němčík, the director of development at Coop, the group responsible for the store, mentioned that despite the surveillance, there are occasional incidents of people taking advantage of the unattended space. For example, in Southern Bohemia, a group of young people took cans of beer from the shelves, set them up as pins, and played bowling with a watermelon. However, the operator spotted them through the cameras and, using the communication system, asked them to pay for the beer and the watermelon before leaving the store.
This concept of unmanned stores is not new, as there are already more than ten automated stores operating across the country. According to Němčík, the experiences so far have been positive, with fewer losses and thefts compared to traditional stores.
Automated stores are especially suitable in rural areas where it is challenging to maintain operations due to high costs. However, Coop recognizes the need for social interaction and understands that older customers may not readily adapt to the automated system. Therefore, in rural areas, they maintain a combined operation, but with reduced staff working hours, such as four hours per day. During the remaining time, the store operates in automated mode, allowing commuters to conveniently make purchases on-site.
The nonstop availability of these stores is particularly beneficial for shift workers in cities like Mladá Boleslav. Local residents appreciate the opportunity to shop outside regular store hours, avoiding the need to rush before or after work. Customers, like Jaroslav Rybka, find it convenient to shop on their way to or from work, even though they need to navigate the mobile application for access.
Jiří Bouška, the deputy mayor of Mladá Boleslav, also acknowledges the positive change brought by the nonstop operation. He recalls a time when there were no stores nearby, and the only option was a mobile store that would visit the area. Now, with the store operating 24/7, residents have easier access to groceries.
While these automated stores eliminate the need for sales staff, there is still a shortage of personnel in the industry. Coop does not lay off employees due to the introduction of automated stores but rather relocates them to areas where there is a staff shortage.
The fully automated operation is well-suited for locations where it is challenging to find long-term personnel and where staffed operations may not be financially viable. Němčík revealed that many small communities have expressed interest in introducing such stores, and Coop is actively discussing the implementation with them.
With the success of the automated store concept, it is expected that more unmanned stores will be established in the future, providing convenience and accessibility to customers in various locations.