Since the beginning of August, butchery owner Jan Stroh and his start-up Friedas24 have been operating an unmanned supermarket in Theley in the German federal state of Saarland based on the concept VPS Roberta from the Kirschenhofer Maschinen GmbH. Customers can shop autonomously around the clock without having to enter the store by ordering via terminal or online pre-ordering.
Friedas24 started with 280 everyday products. The assortment is to be expanded to 500 products. “The range extends from groceries such as butter, margarine, cheese, meat and sausage to hygiene products such as toilet paper and drinks,” said founder and owner Jan Stroh during a site visit with the municipality of Theley in May this year.
The autonomous store is mobile
Friedas24’s first autonomous store is only 21 square metres in size on a total floor space of 28 square metres. Apart from an installation permit, only electricity and network access are required for operation. If the box has to be moved to another location, this can be done within two days.
Indeed, Friedas24 is already planning for the store to be set up at another location. “It will serve as an interim solution until the opening of the new grocery store in the new town centre in Theley,” said the mayor at the time, Hermann Josef Schmidt, and the head of the town, Friedbert Becker, as part of a press release from the municipality of Theley in May 2022.
Intuitive selection of products by the customer
No registration is necessary to use the autonomous Friedas24 store on site. Customers select their purchases via touch display on a terminal attached to the store. Assortment groups are represented by icons. The articles appear in the overview with pictures and product information, which the retailer can adjust independently at any time. The menu navigation is also deliberately kept simple.
“It was important to us to design the concept in the most self-explanatory way possible so that as many people of all ages are able to use VPS-Roberta,” says Craig Craill, managing director and programmer at Kirschenhofer Maschinen GmbH in an interview with the Retail Optimiser. “We want to give medium-sized retailers the opportunity to be able to market their products independently and across all target groups.”
A robot assembles the articles
Inside the 21-square-metre box, which is cooled to 3-5 degrees Celsius as standard, a robot from the Japanese company Yaskawa works to assemble the products for the customers using suction or gripping technology. Each item compartment is provided with a QR code, which the robot scans for identification. The ordered items are then placed on a conveyor belt and handed out to the customer.
The customer can follow the picking process on the display. Payment is exclusively cashless. Verification is carried out by means of an identity card or passport for products requiring age verification.
The software monitors stock and best-before date
The box is filled by the retailer Friedas24. During this process, the number of articles is updated by the retailer using the software, as well as the best-before date. Prices of articles can be reduced automatically in a timely manner ahead of the best-before date. At Friedas24, products that are one day before their best-before date are automatically picked for the non-profit organisation Tafel and made available for pick-up.
The autonomous box is currently located at Primstalstraße 5 in Tholey-Theley. Recently, customers can also pre-order the goods via online shop and pick up their picked purchase at the Friedas24 box using a QR code. Friedas24 is also planning to open a new self-checkout store in Reimsbach. Another Friedas24 store is also planned in Wahlenjj. The project is funded by the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture and the Saarland Ministry for the Environment, Climate, Mobility, Agriculture and Consumer Protection.