In Canada and some other developed countries, businessmen are launching employee-free grocery stores with the help of modern technology.
In Toronto, the little shop below 88 Erskine Ave., a towering condominium near Yonge and Eglinton, has all the makings of a typical Toronto convenience store. The shelves are filled with basic groceries and household items, refrigerated sodas and a generous supply of beef jerky, but not a single employee is seen in the store.
No clerks stocking the shelves, no cashier manning the till. Customers come and go, but the store is tucked away in a basement next to an underground parking lot, so foot traffic is light.
This is Aisle24, the fully automated brainchild of Toronto entrepreneur John Duoang. The business began as a novelty concept in 2015, when Duoang was enlisted by a developer to design a “frictionless” bodega for students at Centennial College. It has since become a rapidly expanding franchise tailored to the current era of public health restrictions and shifts in the labour market.
The company has four locations in Toronto — with eight more on the way in Ontario and Quebec — and funding from significant investors.
To access an Aisle24 store requires an app downloaded to your smartphone that unlocks the door when the device is detected within five metres of the entrance. To exit requires a trip to the self-checkout counter, where a scanner and computer guide you through the payment process. The stores have the same products as your typical corner store, but they operate on a consistent 24-hour basis and without any of the usual human interaction, Toronto Star reported today.
Duoang, who as a teenager worked evening shifts in his parents’ convenience store near Dufferin Street and Eglinton Avenue West, sought to create the cashierless model after working in software technology and learning how machines could perform many of the basic tasks required of retail workers.
With his wife, Marie, and his brother, Josh, Duoang crafted a franchise that relies on franchisees to lease individual locations from the company and maintain its inventory without the help of in-store employees. In essence, he’s stayed in the family business while upending the model.