Just Walk Out - future or foe?

Is Just Walk Out – JWO – the future of grocery and wholesale, in the UK, Europe and the US? Or is it just for big cities and the convenience market? Does it have a significant role to play? Or, with the rise of the rapid delivery players, will delivery become the new standard? Will JWO purchases make up only a small proportion of overall sales? We look at some key questions on this fascinating and fast-moving topic.


Testing the waters...

Starting in the UK, Amazon now has six Fresh stores in London, open and fully operational seven days a week.

The Tesco Express in London’s High Holborn, the brand’s first cashless store, is operating as a JWO store now that the retailer has completed the testing process in a trial store for staff near its Hertfordshire HQ.

Similarly, Morrisons’s ‘Project Sarah’ is its test store at the Bradford head office, currently open to staff only.

In mainland Europe, retailers are trialling till-free stores including Jumbo’s smart shopping trolleys in the Netherlands and a ‘Lidl light’ concept from the grocer’s parent company, Schwarz Group. 

In the US, Amazon is now launching full size stores under its Fresh brand. Customers would ideally bring their own bags to place items straight into within the trolley, saving time and boosting efficiency. Interestingly, at the Washington store which opened in June, customers choose between traditional checkout and JWO when they enter the store, meaning the retailer won’t put off anyone who wants to use Amazon as a supermarket but isn’t ready for JWO.

What's been going on...

JWO is still in its infancy. UK Big Four grocer Sainsbury’s was at the forefront of till-free retail in 2019 but customers did not respond favourably and the Central London trial at its Holborn store was abandoned.

Since then, use of card only and contactless payments has accelerated due to COVID. Contactless maximum started at £20, has risen in increments to £100 and is now available almost everywhere, from national grocery chains to independents retailers and market stalls.  Customers are more comfortable with these payment methods, with JWO perceived as less of a leap.

Is there any value in the interactions customers have at the till, be they conversational or help with packing?

What about how retailers will train up the next round of leaders? The industry is renowned for being a great training ground and for recruiting from within – from ‘the shop floor’. We can’t predict what will this mean for young people coming up through the ranks. Where do these opportunities lie within a JWO environment?

Can it get better?

Looking beyond grocery, could JWO expand into general merchandise? For example, if British department store retailer Marks & Spencer were to introduce JWO into its Simply Food groceries proposition, customers would surely question the need to queue for general merchandise items within the same store.

No one can predict the future. The future of JWO will depend on consumer habits and how the delivery market develops. With apps becoming increasingly sophisticated and the evolution and adoption of the Internet of Things, will people need or want to go, physically, to a place to acquire basic groceries? Will Just Walk Out tech become relevant purely for items where there is a value in browsing and making a real time purchase, perhaps because we eat with our eyes or want to make a spontaneous choice?

Researched and written by – Sarah Mckenna

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