Unstaffed stores have become more and more popular in Japan recently, with everything from clothes to gyoza now available at any time of the day or night.
Those looking for a Japanese bento or side dish can stop by a well-known chain called Origin Delica, which has an unstaffed store in Tokyo’s Nishi-Asakusa district. Our reporter Seiji Nakazawa, who’d never visited an unmanned store before, popped in one evening to try it out, and when he stepped inside, he couldn’t quite believe that it was unsupervised, albeit with staff hidden out the back, who can be called on if help is needed.
The shelves were stocked with a wide variety of ready-made meals and side dishes, as you’d expect at a regular branch of Origin, but without any staff to be seen, Seiji felt as if he was a character in a video game or some sort of sci-fi world.
▼ Let’s do some business then.
It wasn’t just the look of the store that seemed dystopian but the sound too, because for some reason an alarm kept ringing in the background. Turning around to see where the noise might be coming from, Seiji realized it was emanating from one of the cashless registers.
There were three cash registers inside the store, and the one blaring incessantly was in front of a kitchen where staff prepare food. However, nobody seemed to be around to deal with the alarm, putting Seiji on edge.
Peering over at the register that was making the noise, it seemed to be stuck on the payment screen, showing an amount of 478 yen and the message “If an error occurs, please notify the nearest staff member” in red.
He couldn’t see anybody to call out to, so after picking out his dishes, he took them up to the second cash register, and as he did he saw there were plastic bags available for three yen each.
▼ Seiji couldn’t help but wonder how many customers have taken a bag from here, thinking they might be free.
As this was Seiji’s first time at an unstaffed store, he proceeded carefully to make sure everything he did was above board, scanning each item with an intense level of concentration.
His concentration was soon interrupted as the customer next to him, who was using the third cash register, ran into a problem when they couldn’t progress past the payment screen.
This meant that Seiji’s register was the last one left standing, so he breathed a sigh of relief as he tapped the “proceed to payment” screen…
▼ …but now he was the one in trouble.
A message popped up that read: “The change is near empty. Please replenish change.”
“What the heck?”, thought Seiji, who’d never encountered such bad customer service in all his life. Not only was the store filled with the sound of a blaring alarm, all its cash registers were now out of order.
Desperate to get out of there, Seiji called out towards the back of the store in the hopes that somebody would come out to help him. Eventually, somebody did appear, but they looked just as scared and confused as Seiji.
Thankfully, after assessing the situation the staff member was able to solve the problem, refilling change and resetting the first register, whose alarm seemed to have been activated when a customer forgot to retrieve their credit card.
So in the end, Seiji’s first visit to an unstaffed store turned out to be less than wonderful, but no less memorable, as he was left slightly scarred by the experience. He’d always thought the main problem with unstaffed stores would be shoplifting, but now he realizes there’s so much more that can go wrong when we rely solely on technology in a sales environment.
It may still be too early for humans to pull off completely unstaffed stores without a hitch, so until they improve, he’s happy to continue shopping at his supermarket with its self-checkout carts instead.
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