2 Convenience-Store Chains Opt Out of Autonomous Checkout

For Circle K and Sheetz, ‘the juice just wasn’t worth the squeeze,’ leaders say at Conexxus conference
Autonomous checkout
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Some convenience stores, such as ampm and Urban Value Corner Stores, have embraced autonomous checkout as an efficient business model. The technology aims to make the shopping experience quicker and more seamless. Customers are typically granted access to the store after scanning a form of mobile payment. They can simply walk out, with cameras and sensors detecting the items they leave with, eliminating the need for a checkout process.

In 2020, Circle K put focus into autonomous stores, said Christine Loukota, director of emerging technologies for Laval, Quebec-based Alimentation Couche-Tard's Circle K, at the Conexxus conference in Arlington, Texas, last week.

“We worked with a lot of great vendors, and it was really impressive, but for us, the juice just wasn’t worth the squeeze,” she said.

Circle K couldn’t see the customer adoption and return on investment that made it work, she said. “If we had a different model, and we could have those little micro marts that you see at stadiums or airports, [an autonomous model] is better meant for that," she said.

  • Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc. is No. 2 on CSP’s 2024 Top 40 Update to the 2023 Top 202 ranking of U.S. c-store chains by store count. bp is No. 7. Sheetz is No. 13. Watch for the full 2024 Top 202 ranking in the June issue of CSP magazine and in CSP Daily News.

The c-store space, which sells fuel and age-restricted items, has high shrink and a demographic that isn’t necessarily interested in downloading an app and putting their method of payment on file, Loukota said.

Sheetz’s Ryan Uphouse, lead business analyst at the Altoona, Pennsylvania-based chain who joined Loukota on a panel at the conference, agreed and said that Sheetz's format isn't conducive to the autonomous checkout model.

He proposed a few questions to other retailers.

“The tech is awesome, but does it apply to your business model? Is it mature enough to make it doable? How do you sell age-restricted products? How do you staff the store? How does my mom, who doesn’t have the Sheetz app, go in and use it? Is it going to create more confusion for those types of customers compared to the young customers who are expecting that?”

It’s strategic to consider how to balance the business and let the technology mature before acting on it, he said.

While the technology has been successful for bp’s ampm, Chicago, and Urban Value, McKinney, Texas, these chains have uniquely formatted locations.

ampm partnered with retail solutions provider GSP, Clearwater, Florida, for the branding of its autonomous checkout technology at the ampm store at T-Mobile Park, where the Seattle Mariners play Major League Baseball. On the other hand, Urban Value stores are located within high-density apartment complexes. The chain, which partnered with Juxta, allows anyone to shop at the store with a traditional debit card, credit card or a mobile wallet, such as Apple Pay or Google Pay.

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