The future of campus retail: How self-serve stores are changing the game

May 11, 2023


Have you ever used the self-checkout lane at the grocery store, or ordered something from a self-serve touch screen or kiosk? A 2020 study by USA Technologies found that 56% of consumers prefer to use self-checkout kiosks or vending machines to purchase goods and services, compared to just 44% who would rather interact with a human cashier. In fact, the study found that 38% of consumers would like to try non-traditional, unattended shopping experiences.  In recent years, autonomous or self-serve retail stores have become a popular trend around the world. These stores, which are powered entirely by technology and artificial intelligence, offer a new and innovative shopping experience for college students and faculty. It’s a trend we’re taking notice of here at Transact, and a huge reason Transact recently partnered with Amazon to bring “Just Walk Out” stores to college campuses. Students/shoppers and any verified user with a university account simply scan their unique QR code to enter a store, which triggers a virtual shopping session during which the technology detects what shoppers take from or return to the shelves. Once done shopping, they can leave the store without having to wait in line. The credentials stored in their Transact Mobile Ordering account will be used to pay for the items they selected. Let’s explore the benefits of autonomous retail stores on campuses, the technology behind them, and their potential impact on the future of retail. 

With the rise of e-commerce, brick-and-mortar stores have struggled to compete with the convenience and accessibility of online shopping. Autonomous retail stores offer a new and innovative solution that combines the convenience of online shopping with the personalized experience of in-store shopping. As this technology becomes more widespread, it has the potential to revolutionize the retail industry, making shopping more convenient and accessible than ever before. The pandemic, which mandated contactless purchasing at stores and restaurants, undoubtedly accelerated the demand for self-serve stores. Even prior to the pandemic, many restaurants such as McDonald’s began using self-serve kiosks to process and expedite orders. Likewise, stores such as Walmart and Meijer were increasing the number of do-it-yourself registers, requiring little or no contact with store personnel. It has proven to be an efficient way to do business, benefiting both consumers and store owners. The evolution of autonomous retail stores is a natural step, accommodating how consumers want to shop. 


Skip the lines, skip the hassles 

There are definite benefits to autonomous retail stores on campuses. One of the most significant perks is convenience. Students and faculty can quickly and easily access the store without having to leave campus or stand in long lines. This convenience is especially useful for students who have busy schedules and limited time to shop off-campus. Additionally, autonomous retail stores can operate 24/7, meaning that students can access them at any time of day or night. 

"It’s about a frictionless experience, not having to interact with anybody, and not having to wait in line,” said Fabian Raso, VP of Campus Commerce at Transact Campus and former CEO of Hangry, a mobile ordering platform acquired by Transact last year. 

Let’s look at the technology behind autonomous retail stores. These stores are typically equipped with a range of advanced technologies, including computer vision, sensors, and machine learning algorithms. Computer vision technology allows the store to track customer movements and monitor inventory levels in real-time. Sensors are used to detect when products are removed from shelves, and machine learning algorithms are used to analyze customer data and make recommendations. 

“AI is consuming all shopping behavior in the store and will be used to make product placement and layout decisions,” Raso said. 

One of the most significant technological advancements in autonomous retail stores is the use of checkout-free technology. This technology enables customers to enter the store, pick up the products they want, and leave without having to go through a traditional checkout process. This technology uses sensors and cameras to detect which products customers take and automatically charge them through their mobile devices. 

These self-serve stores are a win-win for both students and campus administrators. In addition to providing students access to groceries and other goods 24/7, other advantages include: 

  • Easy-to-use technology. To get started, students need to download the app and fill out their personal data and payment information. As they choose and scan items in the store, prices are displayed and calculated. Students can pay using the app with a simple tap and exit the store.  
  • Reduced need for labor. Since self-serve stores require very few staff members, this helps reduce the need for labor on campus, lowers staffing costs, and provides a more efficient use of space. 

Autonomous retail stores are a promising new trend in higher education campuses that offer numerous benefits, including convenience, personalized shopping experiences, and advanced technologies. With their potential to revolutionize the retail industry, autonomous retail stores are sure to be a topic of discussion in the years to come. 

If you would like to learn more about how Transact can enable this exciting new shopping experience on your campus – contact us and we’ll put you in touch with one of our experts. 

Guest blog contributors:
Jonathan Manna, Senior Product Marketing Manager, Integrated Payments & Campus Commerce
Fabian Raso, VP of Campus Commerce