Check it out

If you know me, you know that I consider myself a late adopter. A tech ‘laggard’ if you will. But I do enjoy an experiment and, last week, one landed in my lap of the retail kind.

The UK’s first till-free grocery store recently started trading at Holborn Circus as part of a three-month trial. The Sainsbury’s Local is only a stone’s throw from Razor HQ (for those familiar with the area, it’s the little one between WH Smith and Boots) so it would have been rude to not give it a try one lunchtime.

It’s important to note that our office is in a Sainsbury’s-dominated part of London. Their head office is across the road from our building and there are around seven Local branches within a half-mile radius. Two of those are across the road from each other! There are, of course, other shops (only slightly) further afield; but, if you need to make a quick supermarket visit around here, Saino’s will more than likely be your first port of call.

At Razor, we’re awfully spoiled for delicious lunch options thanks to nearby Leather Lane market and to the many food shops in the surrounding area. But spending up to £8.00 a day on lunch very quickly adds up and, sometimes, when you haven’t brought in your own food from home, you want to look after the pennies. 

Enter Sainsbury’s.

To make it as seamless a process as possible, I fully set-up myself up tech-wise before leaving my desk.

  • Step one: Downloading the Sainsbury’s SmartShop app to my phone.
  • Step two: Logging in with my pre-existing online account details (inc. Nectar info).
  • Step three: Connecting a payment method (in this case, Google Pay).


I should mention that I only go to this particular branch on rare occasions – and that’s because there’s another branch directly across the road at roughly three times the size with a product selection to match. But I do pop in now and then when I need to buy something very quickly and can’t face joining the long queue over the road. (Seriously, we’re SO spoiled.)

Suffice to say, it’s a small shop. And it’s now had a refit to remove the kiosk and self-service tills that were at the front. For obvious reasons, all booze and cigarettes have left the building for the duration of this three-month trial. 

I’m greeted by a member of staff asking whether I need help downloading the SmartShop app to my phone. (Nope, ta. I’m already set. <smug grin>) Inside I find that most of the layout has remained the same, except for a coffee-making area by the bakery section. There’s also a customer desk in the corner where the tills used to be. Inevitably, there’s a growing queue of people at the desk waiting to pay by cash or card. Perhaps I’m not as much of a luddite as I first thought?  

The shelves are well-stocked which isn’t a surprise. Former checkout operators are now free to roam around filling the shelves and to help customers adapt to the new technology. Two things strike me as I scan the fridges wondering what to have for my lunch. The first is all the plastic packaging. Not that there wasn’t any before they got rid of the tills – but it now feels far more prominent due to the extra ready-to-eat breakfast and lunch products added to the line-up.

The other thing I noticed is the number of chilled products nearing their sell-by dates all covered in yellow ‘reduced to clear’ stickers. In a world where many of us are making an effort to change our plastic and food consumption habits, this sight is disheartening; especially knowing that Sainsbury’s’ goal is to transfer the till-free scheme to larger stores around the country. Food waste is already a huge environmental problem in the UK and we’ve only recently declared a climate emergency.

I do get – in this example – that products must be packaged as simply as possible in order to make e-payment a quick process; but supermarkets and manufacturers are currently under so much pressure to reduce waste that this set-up feels off to me. Where will it lead? 

To help do my bit for food waste, I bought a selection of reduced-to-clear items to make a delicious falafel and avocado salad. I had enough ingredients to last me a few days all for well under a fiver. Bargain lunching.


A quick scan of a QR code on the way out and I was free to leave with my swag. Overall, a super speedy shopping experience. One that’s definitely left me with food for thought. 

Best part
Browsing while knowing you don’t have to queue to pay at the end. Scan your items, pop them straight in your bag, pay and leave.

Worst part
All the packaging.