/ Shopping

Can a supermarket work without tills?

Grocery shopping usually ends with a visit to the checkouts and often a bit of queuing… un-till now. Are we ready for a till-less revolution? Do we need one!?

We discussed the prospect of checkout-free supermarkets back in January last year.

Now, Sainsbury’s has announced the trial of the first till-free grocery store in the UK, and I was curious to give it a try.  

Could it live up to its promises of making my shop ‘quicker’ and ‘easier’?

Self-service checkouts have been a staple in most supermarkets for years now, but going completely till-free takes things another step further. Is it a change for the better?

Abby and I set off for a trial run at the till-less store at Holborn Circus. Our race to the finish line consisted of:

🛒 Buying a small shopping list of items; apples, cashew nuts, a cold drink and some tissues

🛒 Trying two methods of payment – Abby would pay with cash at the customer service desk, I would pay with the app

🛒 Declaring the winner as the fastest to complete their shop, pay, and exit the store

We’d both enter the store with the means to pay. With cash, that was fairly straightforward. With the app? Less so.

I needed to download it, register for an account, then enable location services to find the nearest store.

Faster…. kind of

Cash was faster, despite technically there not being a till to accept it (payment was done at a customer service desk). Abby completed her shop in five minutes and 35 seconds, nearly three minutes faster than my eight minutes and 32 seconds.  

Why did my shop take longer? I’d downloaded and registered to use the app in advance, but I did not download and set up my phone to pay with Google Pay. 

This took nearly four minutes, and a bit of juggling to input my card details using my phone’s camera while holding a shopping basket.  

Abby spent approximately three minutes queuing at the customer service desk to pay, while I was able to proceed straight to scan a QR code and pay on my app.  

App-ealling or dis-app-ointing?

Using the app had one key appeal – avoiding the queue. Had I walked in fully ready to pay I would have been both faster than cash, and have avoided the one part of shopping I prefer to avoid.  

It’s also handy to see how much your spend is at all times and not worry about brandishing your wallet in unfamiliar surroundings. You can also scan and bag as you go, making a shopping basket unnecessary for a small shop.

However, I can’t see this working for everyone and, at times, not working for me.

There’s a large technology chain involved to make this shop ‘easy’, including a phone, access to mobile data or WiFi, and being open to sharing your location data. Not everyone will be able to access these resources, or may want to keep their data more private.

My key takeaway is that ‘faster’ and ‘convenient’ are best defined by the shopper. For me that’s less about how I pay, and more about whatever method of payment has the fastest queue.

How do you normally pay for groceries at the supermarket?
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So how would you feel if your local supermarket completely ditched the checkouts and switched to an app? Could you get on board, or would you prefer a more personable shopping experience? Should we resist changes like this, or are they the future?


I use Google Pay all the time, and would certainly use a payment method such as this at times to avoid queues. Having said that, I feel we are beginning to use technology for everything just for the sake of it, and much of it takes longer or simply doesn’t work. If I was forced to rely on one payment method for everything, it would be cash without even a second thought.