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Self-Serve Stores Moving to Small Towns

Self-serve stores are becoming more commonplace. We shared in an earlier post that Amazon Go was one of the first implementations of this concept.

Amazon has continued to expand the self-serve store concept in several Whole Food stores utilizing its “Just Walk Out” technology.

Amazon isn’t alone. A variety of companies are offering the technology to create a self-serve store. However, most of these stores or applications are in larger cities.

One problem many small towns face is a lack of retail stores, especially grocery stores. Around 80% of small-town stores have no succession plan in place, with over 50% expecting to close in the next 5 years. If these small-town grocery stores close, many residents will have to travel many miles to purchase their groceries.

One couple in a small Minnesota town is trying a self-serve grocery store. Main Street Market is staffed three days a week, but is open to members all the time.


Video Spotlight:  


This post is based on the KARE 11 article, A Self-Service Grocery Store is Thriving in a MN Town, And Showing Others What’s Possible, by Kent Erdahl, July 20, 2022, and the YouTube video in the Spotlight. Image source: dowell/Getty Images

Discussion Questions:

1.  Why use self-serve stores?

Guidance: Regardless of location, self-serve stores offer several advantages. One is cost. A business owner may spend more on the technology to start the store, but the long-term payroll cost is reduced.

Second, many retailers are having difficulty finding enough employees. Several stores have closed due to lack of employees.

Third, loss prevention is better than with a traditional store. Traditional stores rely on employees for loss prevention. Self-serve stores rely on the technology, including cameras to prevent theft. In many cases, this works better than relying on employees.

Finally, stores that use automation can be run autonomously, allowing customers 24/7 access to the store.

2. Why use self-serve stores in small towns?

Guidance: The advantages listed above fit well with the needs of a small-town grocery store and its community. Obviously, cost savings is a benefit to any store. But, in smaller towns, cost savings is vital to keep stores open.

In many small towns, residents commute to work in other towns. The traditional 8am to 5pm store hours wouldn’t offer the access that many residents want. Staffing a grocery store for longer hours increases cost, and in many small towns, finding employees is difficult. Many of these small-town stores are staffed by the owners—making extended hours of store operation difficult.

Using technology allows 24/7 access without the increase in cost of employees, plus it reduces the need to find employees. Tie in good loss prevention capabilities, and self-serve stores offer these towns the hope of having their own grocery store. Thriving businesses are a necessity for these towns’ survival.

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