Membership gets you 24/7 access at new grocery store

Alex and Caileen Ostenson, owner/operators, Main Street Market - Photo: Main Street Market
Jun 09, 2021

A new grocery store in Minnesota is only staffed and open a few days each week for the general public, but members can visit any time — day or night.

Main Street Market charges $75 per year for membership, according to Park Rapids Enterprise. Once signed up, members download a smartphone app which they can use to shop in-store during unstaffed hours. They can gain entry to the store any time with either a key fob or via a Bluetooth connection. Each customer is identified via a unique access code, which the store owner can revoke access at any time via smartphone.

Main Street Market is a full grocery store with an organic/co-op style offering. Members shopping during unattended hours can make purchases either by scanning with the app or using the self-checkout at the front of the store.

Automated grocery and convenience stores, popular for some time in parts of Asia, have grown more common in the U.S. in the past few years. In the wake of the announcement of the fully automated Amazon Go in 2018, tech startups and grocers rushed to find new ways to speed checkout and reduce the transaction friction that has long made grocery shopping a chore for customers.

Some startups and retailers have attempted their own takes on Just Walk Out technology, which manages shelf inventory through computer vision and sensors and requires no scanning from the customer. Others have launched solutions like scan-and-go, which requires customers to scan product barcodes but circumvents a traditional checkout line. Some have opened unattended stores which require the scanning of products and then scanning a generated QR code to check out.

Anecdotes from some startups in the space indicate that the novel coronavirus pandemic may have increased retailer interest in Just Walk Out and similar technologies, Bloomberg reports. The sudden need to speed transactions and minimize human contact seems to have been an inspiration for businesses considering adoption of the technology.

Recently, airport retailer Hudson has begun rolling out its Just Walk Out-enabled Hudson Nonstop concept, opening its biggest Nonstop location in Chicago’s Midway Airport this month.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS:  What do you make of Main Street Market’s hybrid staffed/unattended model and do you see other retailers implementing something similar? What are the advantages and disadvantages of this model?

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16 Comments on "Membership gets you 24/7 access at new grocery store"

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Ken Lonyai

I like the idea that this is a hybrid model. Success is hard to predict because there are so many variables involved including the post-pandemic environment, community demographics, marketing plan, product assortment, pricing, etc. It will be interesting to follow up in a year and learn what happened.

One concern is security for shoppers in the store or leaving the store in the overnight hours.

Richard Hernandez
Richard Hernandez
Merchant Director
1 year 5 months ago

So are there cameras making sure that people pay for their purchases? Does does the door not open if you owe money? Interesting concept, but I am curious how they approach the loss prevention/shrink side.

Gary Sankary

Having been to Park Rapids several times, I suspect that the owner of the store knows most if not all of the people who have signed up for membership. I wouldn’t be surprised if at least a few of them already had a key. 🙂

Christine Russo

Oh wow – this is the digitization of the co-op which, by definition, is a very hands-on and hands-in (sharing labor) model. Now even a co-op is leaning into technology and basically becoming a subscription service. This is definitely a unique way to maintain clients who prefer fast/person-less checkout and also include the HYBRID option and offer attended hours. The digitization of retail is not binary – it’s omni.

Gary Sankary

This will be very interesting to watch. I didn’t think it would happen in a small town business, given the technology required. But kudos to Main Street Market. I’ll be very interested to see how this works for Hudson. I’m not clear on the how to mitigate the shrink issues.

Venky Ramesh

A novel way to provide unmanned 24/7 service to customers in a highly differentiated manner. the biggest advantage to this model is the ability to increase availability and customer service while keeping employee costs very low. The biggest disadvantage I see is the model favors tech-friendly demographics, which I suspect may be a relatively smaller proportion in a small town. All in all, a huge thumbs up for the novel experiment.

Oliver Guy
Oliver Guy
Global Industry Architect, Microsoft Retail
1 year 5 months ago

Awesome idea – more of this please! But seriously it just raises the bar for everyone else. What is key is that these models need to reduce friction for the consumer – not increase it. Therefore as much automation as possible is needed.

Dave Bruno

This hybrid “high touch or no touch” model is a fantastic way to maximize investment in real estate and – more importantly – to give customers the flexibility to shop in a manner that is most appropriate for each journey. I love this.

Jeff Weidauer

This is a great concept and I applaud the company’s willingness to experiment. The two biggest challenges will be 1.) making the tech work all the time, and 2.) listening to how people are actually using the concept so adjustments can be made.

Kathleen Fischer

Interesting concept but I’m not sure I would feel comfortable as a shopper going in and out of the store in the middle of the night. Security, both for the shopper and the retailer, seems to be the greatest challenge.

Kevin Graff

Interesting concept to be sure. Let me put another lens on this: is this just another evolution driven by the desire to minimize the need for staff (read: humans)? Technology may be a wonderful thing — but what happens to your retail business when those humans who used to work for you no longer have a job, and hence have no money to spend in your stores?

Take a look at the auto industry where robotics have replaced thousands of workers in the plants. Look to the future when autonomous trucks will replace 2 million drivers in the U.S. alone. Rest assured, I love all this innovation in the retail world. It’s just worth a few minutes to stand back and consider the larger impact these changes may have along the way.

Shep Hyken

We know the technology is moving in this direction. It’s a self-service and convenient experience. If the retailer can provide the technology to drive it, the customer will learn to use it – and enjoy it. And the data the retailer captures will be invaluable for personalizing promotions based on the customer’s buying habits and patterns. Welcome to the future!

Patricia Vekich Waldron

Ensuring shopper safety and minimizing merchandise shrinkage will top challenges.

Raj B. Shroff

I think it’s great. Shoppers can choose when they want to go and aren’t inhibited by store hours. We all wish some of our favorite retailers were like that when online isn’t enough. And it’s great for the owner who doesn’t have to staff 24×7 to cover low traffic times.

I don’t see any disadvantages since it’s a paid membership, minimizing it only being a purely transactional the way vending is. The users of the off-hours are likely savvier shoppers. As they scale there will be operations issues such as maintaining cleanliness during off hours, addressing shopper questions, all surmountable for a cost.

Cheers to them for taking a stab at this.

Craig Sundstrom

I’m going to approach this from a different angle: in an era which — allegedly — is concerned with sustainability, it’s surprising someone would advocate for the idea of keeping a store running all night, for the benefit of (what I suspect will be) very few shoppers.

I wish them well, but this seems like a typical solution looking for a need to fill.

Doug Garnett

Seems unwise to give up one of the critical advantages of a brick and mortar store — people.


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