SEOUL, July 24 (Korea Bizwire) — With the coronavirus pandemic increasing demand for so-called ‘untact’ consumption, retailers are scrambling to introduce unmanned checkout services.
E-Mart Inc., South Korea’s largest discount store chain by sales, currently operates some 700 unmanned checkout kiosks across 110 stores, or 78 percent of all E-Mart stores nationwide.
After first introducing 16 unmanned kiosks at three stores in 2018, the number has soared over the past two and a half years.
Lotte Mart, a discount store chain operated by retailer Lotte Group, also operates 512 unmanned checkout kiosks across 50 out of 120 stores in the country.
“Unmanned checkout kiosks are easy to use once the customers get the hang of it the first time. The usage rate continues to rise,” said a Lotte Mart official.
In fact, more than 51 percent of all customers at Lotte Mart Seocho were using unmanned kiosks.
Convenience stores are going beyond unmanned checkout kiosks to introduce unmanned, or hybrid stores.
Hybrid stores combine both ordinary convenience stores and unmanned stores where staff only comes during the day. The store turns into an unmanned store at night.
GS25, a South Korean convenience store chain owned by GS Retail Co., currently operates 73 hybrid stores and 31 unmanned stores.
Another convenience store chain CU operates 70 unmanned stores and 140 hybrid stores. Emart24 also runs 56 unmanned stores and 34 hybrid stores.
7-Eleven introduced unmanned cashiers and a hand pay system that uses hand scan technology for payment at 22 smart stores across the country.
“A simple check-out task accounts for 60 percent of a convenience store employee’s time,” said a 7-Eleven official.
“With the introduction of an unmanned kiosk, store owner and staff will be able to focus on different tasks for better efficiency and customer satisfaction.”
Some experts argue that the introduction of unmanned checkouts amid a rising minimum wage and economic recession caused by the coronavirus will encourage unemployment.
“Introducing an unmanned checkout kiosk doesn’t mean that one of the staffed cashiers will disappear,” said a source familiar with the logistics industry.
“The staff will be moved to a different task, but there will be no lay-offs.”
H. M. Kang (email@example.com)