You're at a convenience store when someone walks in with a reusable grocery bag, loads up and walks out... without ever paying. Time to dial 911, right?
Not if you're at Choice Market's next market, where you'll soon be able to enjoy "frictionless" shopping. The technological marvel is set to open next spring at 939 Bannock Street, on the ground floor of the Parq on Speer apartment building.
The idea of frictionless shopping isn't new or specific to Choice Market, but the chain's founder, Mike Fogarty, is putting technology to use in ways seldom seen in the retail industry. If you've scanned a QR code to pull up a restaurant menu or paid for food online without having to hand cash or a credit card to a server, you've experienced the more commonplace side of low- or no-touch commerce. But the concept of a literal grab-and-go seems like something out of a science-fiction movie.
"We've made a significant investment already in our tech and our customer experience," Fogarty says of his three other Choice Market locations. "This one will have an integrated, vision-based checkout system."
What allows you to take things off the shelves and head out the door without stopping at a cashier station is a combination of cameras, shelf sensors and your own mobile device. You'll be able to download the Choice Market app, enter your info and then scan a QR code when you walk into the store. From there, your groceries will be tallied and charged to your account as you remove them from the shelf. (Don't worry: The system is smart enough to know when you pick up an item and then put it back.)
"We've been looking at this technology for upwards of three years now," Fogarty explains, adding that he visited other businesses using similar equipment and software, though there aren't many. Amazon Go is one of the few that many people may have already experienced.
While the technology will be introduced at the Parq location, he adds, "we'll also end up retrofitting the rest of our stores."
Choice Market has been on the cutting edge of convenience-store operations since the first shop opened at 1770 Broadway three years ago, giving customers a wide selection of locally produced foods, housemade grab-and-go items (some of them vegan) and independent brands. When the second Choice Market opened at 1015 Osage Street in the Lincoln Park neighborhood in 2019, it tailored its selection for residents of the Mariposa development, which combines standard and low-income apartment homes in a mixed-use setting.
The location at 2200 East Colfax Avenue that opened earlier this year was the first Choice Market to offer contactless payment with a self-service kiosk; you can also shop at home through the app for delivery and contactless pick-up. There's even an electric-vehicle recharge station.
Shopping at the next Choice Market, which will be nearly twice the size of the Colfax store, won't be a cold and sterile experience, though. There will be real human beings cooking hot food to order, so you can get a hand-breaded fried chicken sandwich that you won't need to pop in a microwave, or indulge in pan-fried noodles made while you watch. A full-service Method Roasters coffee counter will be staffed by a barista, so you can customize your cup to your heart's content. And while you can snag a pint of ice cream from the freezer aisle, an employee of High Point Creamery will also be on hand to scoop you one of the Denver original's many flavors.
"When Choice opened their first store, they contacted us, so they've been selling our pints since the beginning," says Erika Thomas, who owns High Point with her husband, Chad Stutz. "We'll have a point of sale, since you can't really put a barcode on an ice cream cone."
This will be the fourth High Point Creamery location, after spots in the Hilltop, RiNo and Berkeley neighborhoods. While there will be a full selection of flavors, sauces, flights and bombers available, the service will be more like that at the RiNo outpost inside the Denver Central Market than the parlor-style setting of the other two locations.
Thomas and Fogarty agree that the Golden Triangle neighborhood is lacking in convenient options as well as ice cream, and that Choice Market's location at the base of a massive new apartment building comes with a built-in client base. Fogarty notes that one of the building's elevators opens right in front of the interior shop entrance (there's also an entrance facing Bannock Street), and he's looking into using Hello Alfred, which would allow apartment residents to order directly to their doors. All of the technology and automation will give customers the ability to shop 24 hours a day, Fogarty adds — making this Choice Market truly convenient.
While Fogarty didn't set out to build a pandemic-ready business, frictionless shopping and touchless payment make things safer for customers. He's aiming to open the Golden Triangle store in January or February (depending on final inspections and approvals from the city), when we will almost certainly still be in the grips of COVID-19 restrictions. And the future — even after the coronavirus is brought under control — still holds many uncertainties.
But Choice Market is already there, waiting for the rest of us to catch up.