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No scanning, no cashiers, no cards: We went grocery shopping at London’s new checkout-free Tesco

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Outside the checkout-free Tesco in High Holburn, central London.
Outside the checkout-free Tesco in High Holburn, central London.   -   Copyright  AFP
By Gaia Lamperti

Over a year of pandemic-induced online shopping habits have accustomed us to seamless digital payments and quick, smooth purchases at checkouts.

As consumers continue to chase that same agility in the physical world too, and merchants join the race to offer contact-free checkout experiences, the trend is now expanding to brick and mortar shops.

Last month, British groceries retailer Tesco opened its first checkout-free, cashier-less store in High Holborn, central London, which allows customers to simply walk away with their groceries without having to scan their products or deal with the payment.

Inaugurated on the same site of a former Tesco Express, which itself had been a cashless store since 2018, the new 'Tesco GetGo' brings the seamless checkout experiment a bit further.

How does it work?

The technology behind it consists of a combination of cameras and weight-sensors able to establish which products customers have picked up, charging them directly through the Tesco app when they leave the store.

But the just-walk-out-shopping frenzy is not a new phenomenon in the UK, where only a few months ago, Amazon Fresh, the retail giant’s grocery delivery service, launched its first checkout-free stores in Europe.

Impatient to try this latest foray into cashier-less shopping first hand, Euronews Next recently headed over to the new Tesco GetGo store early on aThursday morning to test out the unconventional shopping experience.

While it felt thrilling to walk out, it was hard to overcome the feeling that you’re stealing.
Gaia Lamperti

The shop didn't look too crowded when we arrived and, indeed, if not already familiar with the procedure, checking in could be a bit complicated. One customer left in search of something more traditional, after staff at the door told her she would need to download and set up an app before coming in.

But we were undeterred and, after opening an account on the Tesco Groceries app and linking a preferred payment method to it, the check-in was actually quite easy.

The app generates a unique QR code that customers have to scan at the automatic gates at the entrance to access the store.

What is it like inside?

Once in, we were a bit disoriented by the absence of baskets or trolleys but were quickly pointed towards some paper bags (our writer very much appreciating this pivot towards a "green" choice) to be directly filled up with your groceries as you shop.

Small but well-stocked with a DIY Costa coffee machine on-site, the Tesco GetGo was a bit too quiet for the morning rush hour in central London, and the shelves full of products in perfect order gave us the idea that the place must not be very populated at any hour.

As we were picking up items and placing them in our brown paper bag, well aware that an efficient system of cameras and very refined weight-sensors were monitoring all our moves tracking the items of choice on the app, a few more people walked in.

AFP
Shoppers simply walk out of the store once they've picked up their items, no questions asked.AFP

Either locals or checkout-free shopping veterans, they proved able to scan very easily, shop quickly and walk out smoothly.

When it came to our turn to leave, we stealthily glanced at the staff at the entrance who smiled back at us, inviting us to just walk through the automatic gates. While it felt thrilling to walk out, it was hard to overcome the feeling that you’re stealing.

As if to ease your guilty conscience, the app promptly reminds you that you have not stolen anything after walking out, with customers receiving a notification on their devices announcing the successful grocery shopping trip and the amount paid.

'Pleasant' overall but maybe a novelty

A receipt is sent to the provided email address, while the items bought can be reviewed on the app and even saved as favourites or "usuals".

If the system made a mistake, which we imagine is relatively uncommon, it’s possible to submit a complaint and get reimbursed for the mistake.

The app also records accumulated points on your ClubCard, Tesco’s fidelity card linked to the account, and automatically applies special promotions at the time of the virtual checkout.

Overall, the experience was pleasant and, probably after the very first visit, can definitely save a lot of time compared to traditional stores with long queues at the tills.

It would be an optimal choice for customers on the go, but only after it truly becomes mainstream and becomes replicated on a larger scale.

The impression is that most people are yet to understand what the Tesco GetGo experience is about as, while there, many asked for information at the door and only a few actually walked in, probably mostly for the sake of a novel, unusual shopping experience.