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NEW PRAGUE, Minn. — Could the future of convenience and grocery retailing exist without cashiers? That’s what Farmhouse Market has set to find out.
The completely staffless, round-the-clock, self-checkout grocery store opened in 2015, and is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week to members through the use of keycard entry and is open limited hours to the public, according to Farmhouse Market's website.
Farmhouse Market opened on the premise of serving a community with specific needs, including open odd hours, convenient access to local and organic foods, and commuters coming in from long distances, according to Tech Insider. The owners ultimately decided the best setup for the store would combine tech and a small-town community building.
“Just because we’re not there every time we shop, it’s not as anonymous as people might think,” Kendra Rasmusson, co-owner and operator, told the news outlet.
For $100 a year, registered members have access 24 hours a day, seven days a week with use of a keycard and pay for their goods via a self-checkout counter. The store owners can see when members access the store via camera and see what they buy. They say this situation is less about shoplifting and more an opportunity to have a transparent discussion with their members.
Rasmusson said she and her husband, the store’s other co-owner and operator, gain valuable feedback from people who don’t check out (e.g. the item they wanted wasn’t in stock, so they’ll get it next time, or if they forgot to pay for an item or two, the store will keep the customer’s tab open).
“People are stealing from grocery stores that are manned by 20-plus people every day,” she add. “Our goal is just to keep that risk to the same level as them. We’re on the same page as our members. We’re not a big company trying to make a ton of money.”
For the non-member public, the store is staffed nine hours a week on Tuesdays from 12 p.m.–3 p.m., Thursdays from 3 p.m.–6 p.m., and Saturdays from 9 a.m.–noon.
Could this radical pioneering work in big cities where there’s far more competition? Carolyn Dimitri, director of New York University’s food studies doctorate program says it’d be tough, seeing as unmanned store models seem to work in small towns because people know each other.
"In economics, they call this a 'bond,'” she said. “If you broke the law, you'd break the bond. So here the bond is your reputation and you want to maintain that. So therefore you'll behave honestly.”
However, she doesn’t dismiss the idea totally. “It would work where there was a demand for this kind of food, but there wasn't much supply. Also, when you can match consumer values with the store you'll get very loyal customers," Dimitri told Tech Insider.