Sometimes a crying baby is the father of ingenuity. That's not a saying, but it should be. It was a crying baby that gave a 39-year-old IT specialist from Viken, Sweden an idea that may well change the face of rural shopping.
It started when Robert Ilijason accidentally dropped the last jar of baby food in the house. He then faced a problem that regularly troubles those living in remote areas. The nearest convenience store is a 20-minute drive from his home. Cue crying baby.
After travelling the 20 minutes in the middle of the night to get the damn baby food, Ilijason decided enough was enough. He came up with a way to apply his tech skills to the very real predicament and created a completely unmanned 24-hour store. Shoppers use smartphones to enter the store and buy goods. There are a total of zero actual cashiers.
The store—which happens to be the first unstaffed food shop in all of Sweden— sells your typical bodega fare, but doesn't stock any sort of tobacco or medicinal products, which might tempt thieves. Additionally, the store is unable to sell liquor, as convenience stores in Sweden are banned from doing so.
Customers register for the service, download an app, and unlock the door with a swipe of a finger. Then they scan their purchases using their phones, and are charged in a monthly invoice.
"My ambition is to spread this idea to other villages and small towns. It is incredible that no one has thought of his before," Ilijason said.
We agree. So we checked, and some people have thought of it before, but it seems that the earlier iterations were more along the lines of open-all-night kiosks than enter-as-you-wish grocery stores.
Not having to pay a staff makes the store viable economically. Ilijason, of course, has to receive deliveries and stack shelves, but he's the store's only employee. Security is taken care of by six surveillance cameras placed strategically in the 480-square-foot store. Ilijason also makes sure that he is alerted by text if the front door is broken into or is held open for longer than eight seconds.
"I live nearby and can always run down here with a crowbar," Ilijason joked.
One problem: the elderly residents in Viken, who might most benefit from the unmanned store, are having a hard time dealing with the technology. Tuve Nilsson, 75, said he and others in his age group think the new store is a grand idea, "But if they can manage this, I don't know. Sometimes I don't understand it."
Grandchildren of Viken: Get on this. You explained Facebook and set up the DVR. Now it's time to teach Grandma and Grandpa how to shop in the unmanned store.