SEOUL -- Five grocery stores will be selected in a state pilot project to check the effectiveness of unmanned supermarkets in urban residential areas. A human employee is responsible for the daytime operation of each store that will be unmanned at night.
The Ministry of SMEs and Startups said in a statement on July 22 that it would select five stores to demonstrate unmanned smart supermarket technology in September. The ministry said it would develop business models and commercialize smart supermarkets next year. Supermarkets, also known as supers among South Koreans, are small grocery stores that sell a wide variety of food, drinks and daily necessities. Unlike convenience stores that are open 24 hours a day, supermarkets close at around 10 p.m.
Smart supermarkets are based on self-service. Customers are required to scan barcodes of products they wish to buy and make payments using a credit card or a digital payment method including biometric authentication.
"Local supermarkets are one of the most common businesses run on family labor. With the introduction of smart unmanned stores, store operators will be able to spend the evening with their family and increase profit and late-night sales," a startup ministry official was quoted as saying.
The ministry said that it would borrow technology and know-how from covenience store franchises that already operate unmanned stores. Lotte, the fifth-largest conglomerate in South Korea, opened a semi-unmanned 7-Eleven convenience store on the 31st floor of the Lotte World Tower in eastern Seoul in 2017, using a biometric payment system that recognizes consumers' pre-registered palm prints.
Lotte's 7-Eleven store was not completely unmanned as it required a manager to regularly clean it and display merchandise. Currently, there are about 60 unmanned convenient stores operated by franchise companies. Many of South Korea's unmanned stores are located inside big buildings or industrial complexes in remote areas.
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