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Näraffär invents the first 100% self-service mini-market

Matthieu JOLLY
4 minutes
In Sweden, Näraffär is innovating by offering consumer a novel experience: doing one’s shopping in an unmanned mini-market!

The facts

Dutch food retailer Albert Heijn launched the first supermarket without check-out assistants in Amsterdam in October 2015. In Viken, a small Swedish village of roughly 4,000 residents, Robert Ilijason has just taken the idea one step further: doing away with all the staff at the sales outlet! After downloading the application, customers fend for themselves.


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All they need to do to enter the 42 sq m store is swipe their smartphone. Meaning something like “just round the corner”, Näraffär is in fact open 24/7. Banking on proximity, it offers staple products like milk, bread, sweets, tinned foods or nappies. Customers just use their telephone to scan the barcodes on the items when filling their basket. They then leave the store without paying. As the application is linked to their bank account, they are debited directly, up to 60 days after doing their shopping.

So the only human intervention involved is shelf-filling, which is done directly by Robert Ilijason. Indeed the offer is scalable. If a particular item is unavailable, customers can simply request it via the application. Näraffär then tries to list it at a keen price. The savings on staff costs are thus invested in cutting prices, not in making more profits.

But there is still the issue of security. To avoid markdowns, the store has 6 CCTV cameras. The owner receives an SMS alert if the door of the store remains open for more than 8 seconds, or if someone attempts forced entry.



What is the common point between societies as different as Deliveroo, Airbnb, Ola, Etsy, Prosper and Näraffär? They were all set up further to a failed customer experience. The well-known customer-centric! Näraffär’s idea formed one evening when Robert Ilijason was alone at home with his starving son. As he had just dropped the last potty, he had to “drive for 20 minutes before finding an open supermarket”. When he got back home, the idea of a village mini-market open at all hours was born.

With the assurance of being able to do some last-minute shopping at a reasonable cost and save time in the process, Näraffär offers a solution meeting the requirements and constraints of village residents. The fact is that with the passing years villagers have seen their shops close as supermarkets in mid-sized towns have opened. Logically, Robert Ilijason ’ambition is “to extend the idea to other villages and small towns”; two new sales outlets have indeed been announced in the provinces of Skåne and Småland. This will validate the business model before possible deployment nationwide.




It remains to be seen if customers want and are able to use the technologies. Currently Sweden is one of the European countries where mobiles are used the most. 46% of online Swedish buyers have paid for at least one purchase with their mobile. For young people and households pressed for time, this is not even an issue. The “time” benefit is self-evident, as borne out by Raymond Arvidsson, a 40 year-old customer: “quick in, no queues, quick out. I like!” But what about the older generation, like 75 year-old Tuve Nilsson who lives alone, for whom a smartphone may prove problematic: “if I can manage this technology, I don’t know. Sometimes I don’t understand it”. While Robert Ilijason is thinking of solutions (card reader to open the doors, a member of staff present for a few hours, etc.), one can also imagine that consumers will organize themselves and make the retail outlet a meeting place. That indeed is one of the key benefits of the concept: revitalizing the village.

Can the model be rolled out on a larger scale with bigger stores? If the problem is one of combating markdowns, the retail chain can nonetheless capitalize on the use of self-scanning. Why buy barcode scanners or readers when the customers themselves already have the necessary devices, namely their smartphone? That for instance is the experiment currently being tested by the French retailer Intermarché at one of its stores in the Paris suburbs. By encouraging the use of customers’ telephones, the retail outlet automatically develops the use of mobile apps… a potential vector for a new approach to the customer relationship centred on customization and immediacy.

So while the initiatives of Näraffär, Intermarché or Albert Heijn stand as a potential threat to jobs, they are above all practical solutions to changing requirements, drivers of consumer spending. So it just remains for retail chains to integrate the latter in order to enhance their shopping experience.

Matthieu JOLLY
Facing with the changes in retail, today's innovations help Matthew to think about tomorrow's relationship between the brand and the consumer.
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