Consumer expectations and digitization are driving self-service as a promising sales channel for restaurants and for numerous other retail segments and professional services businesses. Pilot projects involving integrated technologies bundled in unique formats offer glimpses into the future of brick-and-mortar retail, where shoppers use mobile devices to navigate unmanned stores and complete purchases.
The Amazon Go concept store that opened earlier this year in Seattle enables shoppers with an Amazon Go app to add food and other grocery staples to a digital shopping cart, then pay and walk out without waiting in a checkout line. Equally ambitious, and a year ahead of Amazon Go, a Swedish IT entrepreneur opened a local Naraffar convenience store, providing an app that allows shoppers 24/7 access, as well as scan and pay convenience.
Stockholm, Sweden-based Wheelys Inc. acquired Naraffar in 2016 and recently began pilot testing an unstaffed concept store in Shanghai, China. Described as an autonomous convenience store, its mobile Moby Mart is self-driving, solar and electric powered, drone delivery landing-pad equipped, and may soon feature holographic virtual assistants to aid app-enabled patrons.
While testing of futuristic self-service concept stores continues, many enterprises are experimenting with self-guided shopping experiences, and how to revise labor tasks and repurpose floor plans to optimize productivity and accommodate this expanding revenue channel.
A major trend redefining the self-service sphere is the order-ahead movement. Mobile order-ahead apps —platforms that enable customers to remotely purchase items for in-store pickup — are rising, particularly among quick-service restaurants (QSRs). Business Insider predicted sales on these platforms will reach $38 billion by 2020.
“It’s a new sales channel for restaurants,” said Raymond Pucci, Associate Director, Research Services at Mercator Advisory Group. “It’s what the drive-through window did 50 years ago. If you think about it, it’s a third sales channel if you figure in-store ordering, the drive-through, and now mobile order and pay as the third sales channel.”
Richard Crone of Crone Consulting LLC agreed, adding that order ahead is the ultimate self-service and literally every retail segment will have an opportunity to take advantage of order ahead in the future.