Next time I go to that grocery store, my cashier will be scanning my groceries from behind a plexiglass shield, yet another measure to prevent the spread of the coronavirus to grocery workers on the front line of this pandemic.
The enormity of the COVID-19 crisis makes me think that cashierless checkout would be really nice to have at a time like this. Shoppers could walk in, grab what they want and go, getting charged automatically upon exit. No interaction with cashiers or baggers, or standing in line with other people.
So I reached out to Krishna Motukuri, Co-Founder of Zippin, to see if there’s been increased interest in his company’s cashierless checkout technology. He said that there has been, particularly in the company’s Zippin Cube, which is a modular pop-up that allows the creation of a cashierless pop-up retail store-within-a-store. In an email to me, Motokuri wrote:
With a Zippin Cube (popup) at the front of the store (or a dedicated aisle converted into a Zippin section) stocking the top-selling products, stores can ease some pressure on their cashiers. Shoppers who need just some cleaning supplies or a cough syrup can walk into the Zippin section, grab those items and leave, without adding to the congestion in the main store.
I mean, it’s his company, so of course he thinks Zippin is a great solution for retailers right now. But the scenario that he describes actually makes a lot of sense. Sick people still have to shop (even in non-COVID-19 times), so they bundle up and head out to the grocery store, wandering the aisles, looking for things like medicine and Gatorade. Then they get in the same checkout lines as the healthy people.
Instead, as Motukuri suggests, grocery or drug stores could build a pop-up near their entrances filled with the items sick people buy. That way, these people, along with those caring for (and thereby in contact with) sick people, can quickly shop in a separate area, limiting contact with store workers and other customers.
This of course, can feel a bit ethically sticky. Prior to the pandemic, the big discussion around cashierless checkout was the removal of another human job. Now that doesn’t seem like such a bad idea. But this vision of a store-within-a-store for sick people does admittedly conjure images of a second-class area for sick people to be shoved into. That’s to say nothing of the unbanked and underbanked not even being able to use cashierless checkout options.
I don’t have a clean answer to that problem. Life was complicated enough even before we implemented a six-foot personal space bubble around us. But these are the questions any retailer setting up cashierless checkout will have to grapple with.
But for those retailers interested in setting up their own cashierless Zippin Cube, Motukuri says his company is waiving all setup fees to stores selling household essentials or health and safety products.