One after one other, grocery shops are shutting down in rural Sweden, leaving villagers to journey miles to purchase meals. But a brand new kind of store has sprung up of their wake: unmanned supermarkets in cell containers.
In Veckholm, a village of some hundred individuals 80 kilometres (50 miles) from Stockholm, the final grocery retailer closed greater than a decade in the past. Then, a year-and-a-half in the past, even the little comfort retailer on the solely petrol station locked its doorways.
Villagers had been left with no alternative however to journey a half-hour by automotive to the closest grocery store.
But in July 2020, an automatic, unmanned grocery retailer got here to city.
In a container dropped in the midst of a area, open 24 hours a day, the 20-square-metre (215-square-foot) grocery store sells a whole bunch of things — and there is no cashier in sight.
“Since a while back, there has been nothing in this area and I think most of us living here have really missed that,” mentioned Giulia Ray, a beekeeper in Veckholm.
“It’s so convenient to have this in the area,” she informed AFP, doing her personal purchasing and restocking the store’s cabinets together with her honey on the similar time.
Shoppers unlock the grocery store’s door with an app on their smartphone.
“We come here three times a week and buy stuff we need,” Lucas Edman, a technician working within the area for just a few weeks, informed AFP.
“It’s a little bit more expensive but it’s fine. It’s a price I can pay to not go to another store.”
He scanned his pizzas and soda on the app on his cellphone, which is linked to his checking account and a nationwide identification system — an added anti-theft safety, in line with the shop.
And it is all achieved below the watchful eye of a single safety digicam.
Keeping prices down
In Sweden, the variety of grocery shops — all the things from superstores to small comfort shops — has dropped from 7,169 in 1996 to five,180 in 2020, in line with official statistics.
While the variety of superstores has nearly tripled in 24 years, many rural retailers have closed down, typically due, like elsewhere in Europe, to an absence of profitability.
Daniel Lundh, who co-founded the Lifvs, has opened nearly 30 unmanned shops in rural Sweden and in city areas with no retailers prior to now two years.
“To be able to keep low prices for the customer, we have to be able to control our operation costs. So that means controlling the rent — that’s why the stores are quite small — but also controlling the staffing cost,” Lundh mentioned.
He plans to open his first unstaffed supermarkets exterior Sweden early subsequent yr.
Domenica Gerlach, who manages the Veckholm retailer, solely comes by as soon as every week to obtain deliveries. She additionally manages three different retailers, all of them cell containers.
Peter Book, the mayor of Enkoping, the municipality to which Veckholm belongs, has solely good issues to say in regards to the three container shops which have opened in his patch.
And he’d prefer to see extra.
“It makes it easier to take a step to move there if you know you have this facility,” he mentioned.
Meeting place and ‘salvation’
In Sweden, some of the digitalised nations on this planet, Lifvs, like its Swedish rivals AutoMat and 24Meals which have additionally popped up in rural areas, advantages from a really wired inhabitants.
In 2019, 92 % of Swedes had a smartphone.
Ironically, the unmanned retailers — plopped down in the midst of nowhere — additionally play a job as a “meeting place” for locals.
“You come here, you get some gas and you go inside and get something, and maybe someone else is here and you can have a chat,” Ray mentioned.
Mayor Book echoed the notion, saying the shops make it attainable to “connect society”.
The pandemic has additionally confirmed the shops’ usefulness, since no contact with different individuals contained in the store is critical.
Because of Covid-19, just one particular person at a time is allowed contained in the Veckholm retailer.
“My mother lives nearby as well and … this has been a shop she could actually enter during all this time. She hasn’t been (able to go) anywhere,” Ray mentioned of her 75-year-old mom.
“This has been a salvation for her.”
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