How Many Humans Does It Take To Run a Supermarket?

You may have noticed an increasing number of self-checkout kiosks at your local grocery store over the past few years. When self-checkouts first found their way into stores they were novel and interesting. They were fun and exciting and people opted for the self-checkout just for the experience. Now, regardless of whether you use the self-checkout, the little automated grocery clerks have lost a bit of their magic. They’re no longer amazing things, but just things.

Automation becomes ordinary

It’s kind of like when the automatic door – or “Phantom Doorman“- first came out and people would marvel at the technology, walking through the door just for the fun of it. Soon enough, automatic doors simply became an entrance and people stopped regarding them as noteworthy.

Self-checkout in the grocery store is yet another example of automation becoming an integral, ordinary part of our everyday lives. Some people still prefer a human clerk – whether they crave the interaction, find self-checkouts inefficient with a full shopping cart, or they simply don’t know how to use the machines- but self-checkouts are becoming as mundane as automatic doors.

More robots, fewer workers

A number of grocery stores have all but replaced clerks and cashiers with kiosks. Instead of 15 workers for 15 checkout lanes, you have 15 robots and a handful of people guiding consumers and assisting people whenever people need assistance. Nine times out of ten those employees aren’t even needed for a transaction. Of course, if someone has a question, or a self-checkout kiosk malfunctions, human employees are absolutely necessary. But exactly how many human workers do you need to run a grocery store?Can you completely automate a grocery store?

We see machines displacing cashiers, but that’s not the only job at a grocery store. You also need managers, people to stock shelves, people to unload freight, and even people to wrangle up stray carts. While researchers continue to work on smart shopping carts, it’s difficult to image automating the entire stocking process in a grocery store. Robots can hardly handle delicate goods, such as fruit, let alone choose a ripe avocado.

However, Amazon has an idea to run a supermarket with a mere 3 employees.

Amazon’s robot supermarket

Amazon Go promises no cashiers and no lines, just grab and go shopping from a physical store. You simply walk into an Amazon Go store, choose the items you want, and walk out the door. While this may sound like stealing, Amazon Go tracks your “purchases” through an app along with “computer vision, sensor fusion, and deep learning”. Whatever items you grab will be placed in a virtual shopping cart, and Amazon sends you the bill. Amazon Go is currently in beta, but is expected to be open to the public this year.

Even though Amazon hasn’t confirmed the plan, there are rumors that they plan to increase the size of the project. Instead of simply serving up snacks and drinks in an 1,800-square foot shop, Amazon wants to take the Amazon Go concept to a full-scale 10,000-40,000 square foot supermarket. The number of human employees in one of these stores would be between 3 and 10 workers.


Forward thinking business recognize the importance of automation. Are you ready? Call us for any of your Indramat motion control system needs!