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Experiments in Brick and Mortar

McDonald’s opened its new flagship location in downtown Chicago this summer. Complete with a mini-arboretum to help earn high LEED certification, 27-foot-tall windows to let in the sun and touch-screen kiosks that allow guests to customize their meals, this is the state of the art in the modern retail or foodservice experience.

Or so I was thinking when my order arrived at my table.  (Yep, no more standing aimlessly at the counter with other bored McDonald’s customers.)

But, soon after, “The Drug Store”  debuted in New York City. It is the first retail location operated by Dirty Lemon, a company that sells infused water via text messaging. With its cashier-less store, Dirty Lemon has introduced a twist that might stun retail veterans: Customers are under no obligations to pay, at least not right away. 

They can text Dirty Lemon to confirm they walked out with one of its products and then arrange to be billed. Or not. In other words, it is run on the honor  system. “We’re moving beyond experiential marketing and into experimental,” Dirty Lemon’s CEO says. 

Coincidentally, as I write this, Amazon has opened its first Go store outside of Seattle. It’s clerk-less, too, but unlike The Drug Store, Chicago’s new Amazon Go knows when you take merchandise off a shelf and then charges you when you leave the store.                        

These are all exciting experiments in retail. And, it looks like clerk-less is a wave of the future, for better or worse. There are clear efficiency benefits, but it’s hard to see how these ideas would work in all retail environments, particularly in situations where consumers might prefer to deal with informed sales associates.


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