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Valet Market invites you to skip the cashier

Do futuristic convenience marts tease a post-employment world?

There's no cashier counter at the exit of small, futuristic grocer, Valet Market.
There's no cashier counter at the exit of small, futuristic grocer, Valet Market.

It’s 2022, and we’re all more or less accustomed to ordering food from touchscreens. That could mean delivery order placed from our phones, fast food order made at digital kiosks, or — thank you, pandemic — closing our own tab at a full-service restaurant. However, when it comes to shopping for groceries, technology may have other plans for us.

Scan the QR code from a smart phone app to enter this autonomous market.

A couple blocks west of San Diego City College, there’s a next-generation shop that aims to raise the bar on the term ‘convenience store.’

You have to download a smart phone app just to gain entry to Valet Market, which operates within the ground floor of the Vantage Pointe high-rise apartment building at B Street and 9th Avenue. Once you connect the app to a credit card, it furnishes you with a QR code that grants access to the store through a gated turnstile placed inside the entrance.

Above the milk, lights and sensors track which items have been removed from, or replaced on, the shelf.

Turns out, this is the moment you pay for your groceries. There’s no cashier waiting to scan and bag items on your way out, or even a self-checkout machine. There’s only another turnstile, to take note of your departure. And by that time, the shop already knows what you’ve placed in your shopping bag.

A snack-, and dog-friendly, market

That’s because, at Valet Market, the shelves themselves keep track of your purchases. They’re outfitted with sensors devised by a company called Accel Robotics, which recognize when you (or technically, the holder of your phone) take a particular item off the shelf. So when I take a $4.49 carton of milk from its place, the store knows I’ve elected to buy it, whether I put it in a bag, a backpack, or under my shirt.

An artist's prescient depiction of the author and his dog

Crucially, this system knows when you put an item back on the shelf. So, when I pick up a box of cake mix to examine the ingredients, then decide I’m not interested, it’s removed from the eventual bill the moment I place the box back where I found it. Which means I don’t get to be as cavalier about leaving unwanted items wherever I happen to be standing, as I sometimes do in at the supermarket (sorry, Vons staffers).

I did encounter a couple of Valet Market employees while shopping. Residents of the apartment building are entitled free delivery most of the day, so there’s someone on hand to run groceries up the elevators as needed. And a second employee let me know he was there, primarily, to sort out any confusion among shoppers visiting the store for the first time. In other words: to explain how to download the app and then leave without any additional help.

I keep using the term groceries, though the scale and scope of the selection truly does more closely resemble that of a convenience store. There are loads of snack chips, candy bars, and cold soft drinks, plus a pour your own coffee station featuring hot and cold brews (plus, this being 2022, kombucha). I found canned soup, chili, and Spam; pints of ice cream; and condiments ranging from ketchup to sriracha.

In terms of actual food, there are meat products such as bacon and sausages, loaves of bread, and tofu. So-so looking produce tends to be sold by the onion, orange, or banana (around 40 to 80 cents apiece). The dairy section is good enough to feature non-dairy alternatives, plus yogurt and eggs.

I’d hoped for more prepared foods: aside from a couple of breakfast sandwiches, I only found a handful of locally-sourced pastries (from O’Brien’s Bakery) and cookies (by Cravory). I couldn’t help notice pet supplies, as my dog was shopping with me (a mural in the shop said this was okay). But I think the most relevant of this, or any so-called autonomous market, is the personal care section. It doesn’t merely offer soaps and over the counter medications, but also the sorts of items all of us at some time have wished we could buy without having to face a cashier: such as condoms, lubricant, and pregnancy tests.

Thus, I can see this place being especially handy for residents of the building, who are granted exclusive access while the shop is closed to others (9pm to 6am). Being able to go downstairs in the middle of the night for a bag of gummy bears and a bottle of antacid sounds truly fine. For the rest of us, there are mostly elevated prices and short-term solutions to hunger. And a novel experience that potentially previews a future where nobody has jobs.

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There's no cashier counter at the exit of small, futuristic grocer, Valet Market.
There's no cashier counter at the exit of small, futuristic grocer, Valet Market.

It’s 2022, and we’re all more or less accustomed to ordering food from touchscreens. That could mean delivery order placed from our phones, fast food order made at digital kiosks, or — thank you, pandemic — closing our own tab at a full-service restaurant. However, when it comes to shopping for groceries, technology may have other plans for us.

Scan the QR code from a smart phone app to enter this autonomous market.

A couple blocks west of San Diego City College, there’s a next-generation shop that aims to raise the bar on the term ‘convenience store.’

You have to download a smart phone app just to gain entry to Valet Market, which operates within the ground floor of the Vantage Pointe high-rise apartment building at B Street and 9th Avenue. Once you connect the app to a credit card, it furnishes you with a QR code that grants access to the store through a gated turnstile placed inside the entrance.

Above the milk, lights and sensors track which items have been removed from, or replaced on, the shelf.

Turns out, this is the moment you pay for your groceries. There’s no cashier waiting to scan and bag items on your way out, or even a self-checkout machine. There’s only another turnstile, to take note of your departure. And by that time, the shop already knows what you’ve placed in your shopping bag.

A snack-, and dog-friendly, market

That’s because, at Valet Market, the shelves themselves keep track of your purchases. They’re outfitted with sensors devised by a company called Accel Robotics, which recognize when you (or technically, the holder of your phone) take a particular item off the shelf. So when I take a $4.49 carton of milk from its place, the store knows I’ve elected to buy it, whether I put it in a bag, a backpack, or under my shirt.

An artist's prescient depiction of the author and his dog

Crucially, this system knows when you put an item back on the shelf. So, when I pick up a box of cake mix to examine the ingredients, then decide I’m not interested, it’s removed from the eventual bill the moment I place the box back where I found it. Which means I don’t get to be as cavalier about leaving unwanted items wherever I happen to be standing, as I sometimes do in at the supermarket (sorry, Vons staffers).

I did encounter a couple of Valet Market employees while shopping. Residents of the apartment building are entitled free delivery most of the day, so there’s someone on hand to run groceries up the elevators as needed. And a second employee let me know he was there, primarily, to sort out any confusion among shoppers visiting the store for the first time. In other words: to explain how to download the app and then leave without any additional help.

I keep using the term groceries, though the scale and scope of the selection truly does more closely resemble that of a convenience store. There are loads of snack chips, candy bars, and cold soft drinks, plus a pour your own coffee station featuring hot and cold brews (plus, this being 2022, kombucha). I found canned soup, chili, and Spam; pints of ice cream; and condiments ranging from ketchup to sriracha.

In terms of actual food, there are meat products such as bacon and sausages, loaves of bread, and tofu. So-so looking produce tends to be sold by the onion, orange, or banana (around 40 to 80 cents apiece). The dairy section is good enough to feature non-dairy alternatives, plus yogurt and eggs.

I’d hoped for more prepared foods: aside from a couple of breakfast sandwiches, I only found a handful of locally-sourced pastries (from O’Brien’s Bakery) and cookies (by Cravory). I couldn’t help notice pet supplies, as my dog was shopping with me (a mural in the shop said this was okay). But I think the most relevant of this, or any so-called autonomous market, is the personal care section. It doesn’t merely offer soaps and over the counter medications, but also the sorts of items all of us at some time have wished we could buy without having to face a cashier: such as condoms, lubricant, and pregnancy tests.

Thus, I can see this place being especially handy for residents of the building, who are granted exclusive access while the shop is closed to others (9pm to 6am). Being able to go downstairs in the middle of the night for a bag of gummy bears and a bottle of antacid sounds truly fine. For the rest of us, there are mostly elevated prices and short-term solutions to hunger. And a novel experience that potentially previews a future where nobody has jobs.

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Comments
1

A future where nobody has jobs doesn't sound too cool. I guess this would be a cool store for those who insist everything be done through technology. For those of us who didn't grow up on technology, whatever happened to on and off? When technology has gotten to the point where jobs are lost, it's gone too far.

Jan. 8, 2022

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