Cashless Payments [Article 1] Big Expansion of Cashierless Grocery Stores? The New Purchasing Experience of the Cashless Society

The massive blackout that struck Hokkaido this summer strongly reminded people just how dependent life in present-day society is on electricity. The reality that a blackout makes it impossible to make payments by credit card at convenience stores and grocery stores probably led many to think it is risky to not keep cash on hand.
Nevertheless, it is a fact that countries worldwide are moving faster than ever toward becoming cashless societies. Daily life is becoming increasingly cashless.
The cashless society has been enabled by the spread of smartphones and online payments; the impetus behind this spread seems to be users' inclination to have new experiences. This article reports on trends related to practical use of cashless payments.

Cashierless Grocery Stores, a Symbol of the Cashless Society, Opening Not Only in the US but Also in Jakarta

Cashierless grocery stores are attracting attention as a symbol of the cashless society. In a traditional cash-oriented society, buying something always involves payment at the register. Whether paying by cash, credit card, or using the online payment feature of a smartphone app, the store and the user confirm the purchase and price, and then the user completes the purchase by explicitly paying the amount billed by the store by some means of payment.
The uniqueness of cashierless grocery stores is their creation of an environment that eliminates cash registers and enables users to take in-store products out of the stores without standing in a checkout line or directly making a payment. While shopping for groceries, long checkout lines are disappointing. Even if you find the shortest line, the person in front of you may take a long time to remove some coins from his or her wallet, and you may wish you would have waited in another line. Cashierless grocery stores eliminate this kind of frustration.
The experience of not wasting time making a payment is new value delivered by the cashless society. For example, when using a car dispatch service such as the one offered by US-based Uber Technologies, you can get out of the car immediately once you arrive at the destination because the fare has already been paid by credit card when the dispatch was determined. When users experience the convenience of not having to make a payment while in a hurry, they will come to regard this convenience highly and want to use the service again.
Cashierless grocery stores use sensors and cameras to recognize users' movements and to determine whether or not users have purchased items. Before entering such a store, users open a special app and hold a QR code displayed in the app, which serves as the user ID, in front of a camera at the entrance gate. When a user picks up items that he or she wants in the store and then passes through the exit gate, the items taken out are considered to be purchased, and billing and payment processes are executed. During this time, users do not have to do anything. They simply take what they want and leave the store. Payment results can be confirmed by smartphone outside the store.
This cashierless grocery store concept was first devised by US-based Amazon.com (Amazon). In December 2016, Amazon announced plans to commercialize Amazon Go, a cashierless grocery store chain. The company repeatedly conducted demonstration tests on employees and opened a store for general customers in Seattle in January 2018.

A scene from a promotional video for Amazon Go, a symbol of cashierless retail stores (source: Amazon.com)

Amazon is rapidly expanding the number of stores: in August the company opened a second store in Seattle, and in September it opened a third store in Seattle and a fourth store in Chicago. Meanwhile, US-based Bloomberg reported that Amazon plans to open 3,000 stores across the US over the next three years, a report that drew much attention. This report claims that the plan is to open 10 more stores by the end of the year, 50 more stores in 2019, and 3,000 stores in total by 2021.
Other companies are also planning to open cashierless grocery stores. For example, JD.com, a leading e-commerce company in China, opened JD.ID X-Mart, a cashierless grocery store in Jakarta, Indonesia.

JD.ID X-Mart opened in Jakarta's PIK Avenue mall (source: JD.com Japan)

Similarly to Amazon Go, JD.com's store in Jakarta requires that visitors open a special smartphone app and display a QR code (which serves as an ID) at the entrance gate before entering the store. This process is characterized by its use of face authentication data registration, which serves to link face authentication data to the QR code. The store contains cameras and other sensors as well as items with RFID tags. The store operates like this: when a user leaves the store, the RFID tags of the user's purchased items are scanned and user face authentication is performed, thereby determining who bought what and automatically settling the bill using the smartphone app's online payment function.

Performing face authentication when a shopper leaves the store (checkout) (source: JD.com Japan)
Purchases can be confirmed by smartphone after checkout (source: JD.com Japan)

Although in a sense cashierless grocery stores may be the ultimate cashless grocery stores, they will never be equal to unmanned stores. The main focus seems to be to enhance store value without adding more staff by eliminating cash registers and reassigning cashiers to jobs that make users' shopping experiences more comfortable, such as user support and restocking.