While autonomous checkout companies have made headlines for retrofitting stores and appearing inside arenas and airports, technology company Juxta aims to incorporate that technology into a new type of store model.
In August, it officially unveiled the Nomad, a portable, autonomous micro-retail store. These small, cashier-free stores allow c-stores to test the waters in new locations without committing to a lease, have a presence where a normal brick-and-mortar store might not work, or cover for existing locations during construction or other downtime.
With many c-store chains already testing a variety of new formats, Juxta’s markets could give convenience retailers another store model to experiment with.
The technology has already caught the attention of some big names in the c-store industry. Yesway is among the early adopters, as first noted by Chief Marketing Officer Derek Gaskins at the Sweets & Snacks Expo in Chicago earlier this year. Choice Market, the Denver-based tech-forward retailer, and Georgia-based regional player Golden Pantry, have also signed on.
When getting started, Juxta’s team spent months speaking with retailers and consumers about the problems they’d seen in the c-store space, Steve Liguori, co-founder and marketing and product leader for Juxta, said in an interview.
A tool that allowed for cheaper, easier expansion, the company determined, could have a place in many chains’ plans.
What is the Juxta Nomad?
The Juxta Nomad is self-contained, unstaffed and tracks what shoppers pick up through a mix of shelf sensors and an AI computer vision system.
When customers are ready to leave, they either walk out or approach one of the proximity-based checkout screens, which show the items they’ve selected. Customers can either confirm the list of items or flag a problem for manual review.
“All of that is designed to give the consumer a very high level of transparency and visibility into how this all works, and to make it as close to a traditional shopping journey as possible,” said Liguori.
For this same reason, Juxta also wanted to emphasize quick delivery of receipts — often in under a minute if there were no disputes with the final list of items.
While he wouldn’t put a specific range on it, Liguori said the transaction accuracy is “very high.”
“Most retailers that we're working with are looking at things like college campuses, office parks, embedding further into communities than they can with a traditional convenience store.”
Co-founder and marketing and product leader for Juxta
Juxta also limits the number of people in a store at one time — the company recommends six, but it can hold up to eight comfortably, Liguori said. When at max capacity, the store prevents more people from entering.
“We've got a little traffic light that helps indicate whether or not you're free to enter and signage indicating the maximum number of people,” he added.
The one exception to the limit is employees, who can get inside to restock, even when the store is busy.
The Juxta Nomad can fit around 500 SKUs comfortably, though Liguori said one retailer plans to stock as many as 650. This aligns with the number of products a typical c-store carries, he noted.
“For most retailers, 10% of their existing product offering in the store accounts for over 70% of top line revenue,” said Liguori. “And so when we looked at that, we said, ‘All right, for the standard store, how many products would you need to support to cover that 10%?’”
Testing the waters
The first Nomad store went up at payments and merchandising company Gilbarco Veeder-Root’s factory in Greensboro, North Carolina, where the factory employees served as the initial testers. After that trial run, Juxta took the store on the road to visit a few conferences and let a broader array of people try out the tech.
Early versions required considerable disassembling to transport, Liguori said. That led to cost concerns regarding the setup process. So the team developed a new design that allowed every piece of equipment to be secured to the wall or floor for travel.
“When you arrive, you remove those securing devices, you restock the shelves, you get your power and internet back and you're running,” said Liguori. “We've got it down to under half a day.”
Since the stores won’t have any full-time staff around to answer questions, Juxta also focused on making them as easy to use as possible.
“We said, if this is going to be an unstaffed environment we need to very intentionally design this so that consumers not only find it very easy to use, but intuitively know what to do,” said Liguori.
That includes making payments is as easy as possible. Juxta doesn’t require a proprietary app or a pre-existing membership. Customers can use debit or credit cards, as well as digital wallets, to pay for purchases. However, if a retailer using Juxta allows payments through their app, then any Juxta Nomads can be set up to accept those payments.
Juxta’s infrastructure integrates with a couple point of sale systems, including Gilbarco’s Passport, as well as several loyalty and back-office programs.
“All of that allows a retailer to take their existing loyalty system to Juxta,” said Liguori. That includes special offers or earning and burning reward points.
Juxta and C-stores
Choice Market plans to base its Nomad in Denver, like most of its stores. But before it lands in its new home, the store will be taking a trip to the Renewal 2023 music festival in Buena Vista, Colorado, Sept. 21-24.
The plan is for the Choice Market to be open 24 hours a day to serve the campers and music fans.
Choice Market is no stranger to autonomous checkout. It developed Choice: Now, a proprietary checkout technology built in conjunction with autonomous retail tech company AiFi. The company also already has a cashierless location at the Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora, Colorado. Another location is staffed for much of the day, but open throughout the night in an unstaffed form. Choice Market noted in March that it expects much of its growth in the near term to come from portable stores.
Golden Pantry, meanwhile, plans to locate its Nomad at Wire Park in Watkinsville, Georgia — a mixed-use development built from an old factory. The space includes apartments, offices and recreational facilities.
Representatives from Choice Market and Golden Pantry were not available for interview for this story.
Yesway, which declined to comment for this piece, noted in May that a forthcoming micro market is one of a number of new formats the company would be testing. At the Sweets & Snacks Expo in Chicago, Gaskins noted the company’s plan to open a location with Juxta, but did not say when this would happen or how many locations it planned to open.
“All of this innovation is geared to make sure we connect with the consumer, stay relevant and stay vital,” Gaskins said at the time.
Use cases and competition
The portable nature of Juxta’s stores mean they can go into places where full brick-and-mortar locations might not make sense. Liguori noted that one of its -- Juxta’s early customers plans to take its Nomad around to music festivals.
“Most retailers that we're working with are looking at things like college campuses, office parks, embedding further into communities than they can with a traditional convenience store,” said Liguori.
He also noted they could help retailers serve customers at locations where the main store is being rebuilt or renovated.
Juxta isn’t the only company looking to build unstaffed micro-markets. Venhub is in the early stages of its shops, which use robots to pick items customers order instead of letting customers pick them up themselves. IKI, based in Lithuania, has also recently unveiled its latest autonomous store.
But while there are many potential applications of these micro markets for c-stores, they are unlikely to replace the tried-and-true traditional store model that companies have honed over time.
“This is not a solution that replaces traditional brick and mortar,” said Liguori. “There's a ton of places where retailers are incredibly successful. … We believe that with Juxta, it's a really strong supplement for retail growth into places where it may not make sense to build a store.”