A Great Big City

Could This Convenience Store Without a Cashier be Your Next Bodega?

Customer makes a purchase
Customer makes a purchase via AP

We can order take-out from our phones and driverless cars may eventually roam the streets, but could this new type of convenience store fit in to city life?

In the small town of Viken, Sweden, Robert Ilijason came up with the idea for an unmanned store. Because of the small local population, it's not financially reasonable to run a supermarket, but Ilijason solved the problem with his 480-square-foot cashless store that operates on honesty.

From an app on their phone, customers are able to unlock the front door, scan items, and pay the total, so shopping is quick and easy. No lines and no cash exchanged. There are cameras and security measures in place, but, for the most part, the store is unguarded.

It's easy to imagine how this approach could go wrong anywhere in America, let alone NYC, but it could be a compelling solution to under-served neighborhoods across the city. There is no shortage of drug stores and bodegas where you can buy a bottle of soda in Manhattan, but corner stores in outer boroughs or more residential areas can become the only local source of food. Much like in the video from Sweden, even the cost of employing someone to run the store could make it financially impossible to serve such a small area. Bodegas in outer boroughs can even slide into price gouging when they become the only store supporting the locals.

Using the Swedish store as an example, small stores with no staff or cashiers could become an option for areas of the city where the population is not enough to support the monthly cost of running a larger store with many employees. Such a solution is actually similar to the "Automat"-style eateries popular in last-century NYC, where cafeteria-style food could be bought from coin-operated machines.

The security concerns of an unsupervised store seem pretty extreme, but may actually be safer than bodegas. Many robberies are for cash, and put the cashier in harm's way. An app-driven store would not hold any cash, and any attempted theft would not put a cashier in danger. Criminals could certainly break in and steal merchandise, but would be condemned by the same evidence if they robbed a bodega: Security camera footage could be given to police and the identity of whoever used the app to unlock the store would immediately be available.

What do you think? Does your neighborhood need one of these shops or would it de-humanize the bodega experience?

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