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HERO FAQ Unattended shops
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FAQ - Unattended shops

Curious to learn more about unattended stores?

Retail customers are looking for more convenient and easy ways to shop. Business owners are looking for ways to expand and meet customer demands. Unattended stores may well be the answer for both consumers and shop owners. As a retailer that opens up for a number of questions. How do I get started? Can I re-use my technology? Are unattended shops safe? What about unattended stores for chains?

Find answers to these and many more questions below. Should you still have unanswered questions, you are always welcome to contact us.

What is an unattended shop?

What is an unattended shop?

An unattended shop is a shop where the entire customer flow is automated, and the customer has no interaction with staff. The unattended store may have a support intercom (as known from, for example, elevators), but it'll usually be answered by non-retail staff and be limited to handling enquiries related to access, exits, and emergency situations. An unattended shop can be either a standalone or a hybrid solution (see Q: What is the difference between a fully unattended shop and a hybrid store? in the following for more information).

When and where is an unattended shop relevant?

That depends on your potential customer base and their needs and wants. Many successful unattended stores are located in busy surroundings with high throughput, high customer turnover, and round-the-clock use, such as train stations, university campuses, or sports complexes. On the other hand, many equally successful unattended stores are in rural areas, where staffed stores aren’t cost-effective. Such more remotely located unattended stores tend to be particularly successful if they’re adjacent to other services that help attract potential customers, for example car fueling or charging, a parcel collection point, or a recycling point. A location on a busy road doesn't in itself guarantee success because people tend to just drive on. Examples of good locations for unattended stores:

  • A small community of 100-300 households located more than 3-4 kilometers from the nearest retailer
  • A gas station or charging facility where it's natural for drivers to stop
  • A city center, bus terminal, or train station where no nearby newsagents, kiosks, off-licenses, or gas stations are open after 18.00 (6 pm)

Among emerging markets for unattended stores, we see growth trends among gas stations, secondhand stores, and at large building sites where unattended stores sell not only groceries to construction workers, but also tools and spares.

Why invest in an unattended shop?

Many owners of unattended stores have invested in them because they help them save significantly on one of their biggest items of expenditure, namely staff. Unattended stores can also help store owners extend their opening hours at very little or no extra cost. Both factors make it possible to offer shopping opportunities in environments where staffed stores would be too costly, so unattended shops are also a great choice for the many retailers who feel they have a social responsibility for supporting their communities, be it rural or inner-city ones. Customers associate unattended shops with convenience and freedom to shop whenever they want as well as efficiency because they hardly ever need to queue. In areas where staffed stores aren’t financially viable, customers quite simply also welcome unattended stores as an alternative to no stores at all.

Can I use an existing store as an unattended shop?

Yes, if the location and premises are suitable, you can turn an existing store into a fully unattended store or into a hybrid store (see the following). Whether or not an existing store is suitable for use as an unattended or hybrid store depends on many factors. For example, you’re very likely going to use video surveillance to provide a safe unattended shopping experience and keep shrinkage to a minimum, but if your existing store has many nooks and crannies, it may be difficult or costly to cover all of them with cameras. Customers typically feel most comfortable and relaxed inside unattended stores when they have an overview of the entire unattended store from wherever they’re situated.

What is the difference between a fully unattended shop and a hybrid store?

A fully unattended store doesn’t have any staff at any time (other than cleaners and people who re-stock the unattended store). A hybrid store is typically staffed during normal opening hours and unstaffed outside normal opening hours, during which only part of the store may be accessible to customers. The hybrid concept is relatively new for grocery stores, but has existed for many years in other sectors, for example at gas stations, where self-service fueling is available round the clock even though the garage may be closed outside normal working hours, or at public libraries, where users can often access reading rooms, return library materials, etc. outside staffed hours.

What can I sell in an unattended shop?

In principle you can sell almost anything in an unattended shop, but what you sell will of course ultimately depend on your customers’ needs and wants. In many unattended grocery stores, drinks, snacks, and sweets are among the most popular articles, but if your unattended store is in a busy sports complex, your top sellers might be tennis balls, shuttlecocks, athletic tape, and electrolyte drinks. Retailers often wonder if they can sell age-restricted articles, such as energy drinks, alcoholic drinks, or tobacco, in unattended stores, and the answer is most often yes (see Q: Can certain goods be restricted based on the customer’s age? in the following for more information). Articles that are typically not suitable for sale in unattended stores include medicine, ammunition, heavy objects, dangerous substances, and highly customization-dependent articles like spectacles and prosthetic devices.

Can I sell perishables in an unattended shop?

Yes. Unattended grocery store customers often want to buy articles that have a limited shelf life, for example fresh milk. Just like in a regular store, perishables typically require more frequent re-stocking and removal of out-of-date articles, refrigerated displays that may take up space, etc. However, if those articles help attract customers who buy lots of them, and ideally other articles too, the investment may very well be worth your while.

Enterprises and chains

Are unattended stores relevant for large chains that require centralized, enterprise-level management?

Yes. In the Nordics, the large supermarket chains haven't really jumped the unattended bandwagon yet because early unattended store solutions were targeted at single-store setups. If you need to run 50 or more unattended stores simultaneously, you need an enterprise-level setup that lets you monitor and manage all your unattended stores from a central office, and you also need an enterprise-level support solution to match. That's where a highly scalable solution like 52Unattended becomes interesting because it can help large chains embrace the attractive unattended store concept.

The end-user perspective

How is payment handled in an unattended store?

With 52Unattended, you can use the payment methods that your customers trust and are familiar with, typically card payment and mobile payment. Customers’ payment experience will be just like in a regular shop. We don’t recommend that you accept cash as payment unless you’re required by law to do so, because cash handling can be costly, involve mechanical equipment that can require excessive maintenance, and involve a security risk that can complicate the otherwise simple and safe unattended store environment. In many countries or regions, unattended stores are technically viewed as vending machines, which may well exempt you from having to accept cash altogether.

What about security during payment?

Payment is just as secure in an unattended store as in a regular store, but there’s typically no other people around who can distract you or find out your PIN code if you use card payment. If you’ve ever paid for gas at a self-service gas station or for a ticket at a train station ticket machine, which most people have without any worries, the payment experience in an unattended shop is similar, but much more comfortable because you’re inside a secure, well-lit building and the articles that you pay for are, unlike gas and tickets, already in your possession when you pay.

What about customer safety in general?

You can do many simple things to make customers feel safe and comfortable in an unattended store. Among the most used ones are:

  • Make customers able to assess the entire unattended store: Customers typically feel most comfortable and relaxed inside unattended stores when they have an overview of the entire unattended store from wherever they’re situated.
  • Light up the entrance area: Use lighting, also outside the unattended store, to make the entrance safe and welcoming. Remember that seasons change, and daylight angles, foliage on trees, etc. may change significantly from season to season, so your lighting needs to take that into consideration.
  • Provide an entrance lobby with two-step access: Provide a small, well-lit lobby space between the street entrance door and the inside entrance door to the actual unattended store. This will give new customers a safe space to enter their details when they register, and it’ll help prevent tailgating so that unregistered people can’t gain access by sneaking in behind registered customers. Learn more about access to the unmanned store in Q: How to get access to the store? in the following.
  • Light up the store: Make the store light and welcoming inside. Don’t switch lights off completely if there’s no one inside your unattended store because customers must be able to assess the store layout from the outside to feel safe.
  • Use visible video surveillance cameras: Make it highly visible and evident, also outside the entrance, that your unattended store is monitored by video surveillance cameras.
  • Provide level access: Provide an inclusive unattended shopping experience, where the fact that customers may use wheelchairs, walkers, etc. doesn’t make it difficult for them to use the unattended store.
  • Give people space: Provide sufficient space between aisles to allow customers unobstructed lines of sight and make it possible for customers to easily pass each other if there’s several customers in the store at the same time.
  • Provide simple exit and emergency procedures: Provide a clearly marked emergency exit and display signs inside and outside the unattended store with the store location (address and/or coordinates) and phone numbers to call in emergencies. Make sure to make the emergency exit sound an alarm and trigger notifications to the store owner if people use it. Make your non-emergency exit procedures so simple to use that customers aren’t tempted to misuse the emergency exit to avoid hassle. For example, exit procedures that involve scanning a QR code on the customer’s receipt don’t work well if customers don’t buy anything or if the receipt printer’s thermal paper roll has run out. A simple scan-your-card-to-leave-just-as-you-did-when-you-entered approach will typically work better and prevent misuse of emergency exits.

How to get access to the store?

Let’s look at two examples where customers enter a 52Unattended store, do their shopping, and leave. In the examples, customers use their physical payment cards to enter and exit the unattended store, but they might as well use digital cards on their phones, key tags, or any other means of access that can be tied to their registration.

1. Existing customer Karen who has already registered to use the unattended store:

  • Karen opens outer door to unattended store by scanning her payment card.
  • Display in lobby says Good to see you, Karen. Please scan your card again at the next door.
  • Karen opens inner door to store by scanning her payment card.
  • Display in store says Welcome, Karen and displays real-time video of Karen in the store.
  • Karen shops.
  • Karen scans articles at checkout.
  • Karen pays with her payment card.
  • Karen opens inner door to lobby by scanning her payment card.
  • Karen opens outer door to street by scanning her payment card.

2. New customer Wayne who hasn’t used the unattended store before:
  • Wayne opens outer door to unattended store by scanning his payment card.
  • Wayne’s payment card isn’t known by store, so display in lobby says Please register here to get access to the store.
  • Wayne registers and accepts terms and conditions.
  • Wayne opens inner door to store by scanning his payment card.
  • Display in store says Welcome, Wayne and displays real-time video of Wayne in the store.
  • Wayne shops.
  • Wayne scans articles at checkout.
  • Wayne pays with his payment card.
  • Wayne opens inner door to lobby by scanning his payment card.
  • Wayne opens outer door to street by scanning his payment card.

The only difference between the two examples is that the new customer Wayne must register and accept terms & conditions. How many details to ask customers for when they register is up to you. In the Nordics, many unattended stores ask new customers to register with their BankID or MitID (two-factor authentication services used by the governments, private enterprises as well as individuals), so the store automatically gets the customer’s identity, including their age, verified.

Can anyone get access to the store?

No, access to a 52Unattended store requires that customers have registered so that they’re known by the store. Registered adults can of course bring their children with them, and a group of coworkers may get access if just one of them has registered (specifics about who customers can bring with them are typically covered in the terms and conditions that customers must accept when they register). In both cases, you’ll know who they came in with because you can easily correlate the timestamped access logs with your video surveillance. Tailgating (that is unregistered people gaining access by sneaking in behind registered customers) is typically not a problem in unattended stores, partly because it’ll be captured on video, and partly because many unattended stores use entrances with two-step access via a lobby area between the street entrance door and the inside entrance door to the actual unattended store.

Can multiple customers use an unattended store at the same time?

That’s up to you. You can set up the access control system to allow only a single customer, multiple customers, or a limited number of customers at the same time. It’ll typically depend on the size and nature of your unattended store. Unattended stores that only allow one customer at a time typically use a display with green/red lights to show whether the store is ready or in use.

How is customer data handled?

In general, you must handle customer data just like you do in a regular store, that is carefully, securely, and in accordance with data protection regulations. However, when customers sign up to use an unattended store, you typically want them to consent to some things that are unique to unattended stores. For example, you may want customers to consent to being video recorded in a non-anonymous context because data from the unattended store’s access control system can, and will, be matched with data from the unattended store’s video surveillance system. Fiftytwo can provide a template for a digital consent form that you can customize to suit your organization’s needs. If you delete customers, or they request to be deleted, their data is kept for a configurable number of days, after which they’re permanently deleted (these details are also stated in the consent form template). That way, you’ll still be able to act against a dodgy customer who steals articles from the unattended store and deletes their profile immediately after.

The shop owner perspective - getting started

How long does it take to get up and running with an unattended shop?

The project will depend heavily on building characteristics. If you need to construct a new building, you'll have a design and permit phase that can easily take six to nine months month on top of the actual solution installation. If the facility is in place, it'll take one month for planning and scoping, one month for professionals to install electricity, video surveillance, and door and gateway infrastructure, and one to two weeks for POS and access service configuration. That way, the answer can range from one to twelve months depending on construction complexity. For basic conversion of a small attended retail store with all required infrastructure already in place, it could be a matter of a few weeks, but don't underestimate planning and timing.

What are the costs of establishing an unattended shop?

Because the unattended facility can vary from simply adding a gate service and a self-service POS in an existing store to building a new unattended facility from scratch on a non-developed location, making a general estimate is difficult.

Facility costs and costs of doors, gated areas, and fences are likely to be the biggest cost driver because the access portal SaaS solution and POS solution is fairly inexpensive. We are happy to support you with your case and we have a business case templates ready. Just reach out to us and we will be happy to assist. info@fiftytwo.com 

What is the business case of an unattended shop?

You need the following basics in place to calculate your business case:

  • Cost of facility readiness
  • Running monthly cost for electricity, SaaS fees, security, insurance, etc.
  • Monthly cost of staff to maintain store (re-stocking, cleaning, etc.; can be as low as seven hours of labor per week)
  • Your average coverage on your stock sales price (typically between 25%-40% in retail)

When you have these, you get the first indication of your daily break-even point. In various current projects we see, depending on investment size and complexity, daily break-even sales targets from 3.000-6.000 DKK (approx. 400-800 EUR) for small stores under 30 m2.

What permits are needed to set up an unattended store?

Depending on factors like the location of your unattended store, whether you’re going to convert existing premises, etc., you may need planning permissions, building permits, fire safety approvals, environmental permits, or similar, just like you might if you planned to set up a regular store. Contact your local authorities for additional information. Note that permits aren’t always a hassle. For unattended stores, they may also be in your favor: In many countries or regions, unattended stores are technically viewed as vending machines, which can greatly simplify things for you as an unattended store owner because that fact might exempt you from having to accept cash, having to handle bottle deposit returns, having to offer customers the right to cancel or return their purchases, etc.

Do I need a specific POS for an unattended store?

Just like you'll most likely be able to reuse all your current facility, you'll most likely also able to reuse any non-Fiftytwo POS if the following applies:

  • Your POS must be a self-service unit and ready for use in an unattended store. It's not enough that it's an SCO (like you know from large food chains) because such SCOs need assistance from staff regularly.
  • Your POS can be disconnected from the 52Unattended platform, but we recommend that your POS is able to communicate through an API and have the following service ready for maximum customer satisfaction. Required API calls:
    • Inject a campaign ID from 52Unattended for the customer to use loyalty functionality.
    • Deliver invoices on demand.

What IT infrastructure is needed for an unattended store?

Your store needs the following as minimum:

  • Electricity, preferably with different segments, so small shutdowns in a card reader doesn't provoke shutdown of freezers or coolers that could render articles unsellable. All solutions provided by Fiftytwo have automatic startup procedures after unscheduled or scheduled power outages.
  • Network, preferably a dual network, such as a cable network and a cellular network, to create maximum redundancy because you'll need network for security, payment, and site surveillance at all times.

Optionally, water and sewage can be installed because most retailers need to provide hygiene facilities. This can, however, also be cared for by a hygiene station with either a tank option or hand sanitizers.

The shop owner perspective - administration

Can I monitor how much my unattended store is used and how much it sells for?

Yes, In the web-based 52Unattended management interface, you can monitor store use and sales in real time on an at-a-glance dashboard. You can also analyze customer trends, such as which days and times they visit your unattended store the most. If you need details, you can drill down to the individual timestamped events of a given customer session, such as entry, scanning of articles, payment, exit, and more. If you have several unattended stores, you can monitor and compare all your unattended stores in a single instance of the 52Unattended management interface.

How to avoid theft?

Experience shows that unattended shops suffer less shrinkage than you’d expect. This is primarily because customers in unattended stores voluntarily accept an element of time-limited social control while shopping: They know that they’re known by the unattended store through their entry registration and their acceptance of the unattended store’s terms and conditions. Also, they know that the unattended store, and consequently their actions in the store, including which articles they select and which articles they pay for, is recorded by video cameras, so they tend to be on their best behavior. That said, theft does happen in most stores, including unattended stores, but if you apply a little psychology, for example by welcoming customers on entry with a display that greets them by their first name and shows their face on live video, the unattended store’s layout on live video, and the current time, you might well deter them from even contemplating theft. Should theft happen, you can easily provide information about who did it, when they did it as well as how they did it captured on video to the relevant authorities to help solve cases and bring perpetrators to justice quickly, which in turn will further deter theft. The same applies for any vandalism attempts.

How to know if something is not working, broken etc?

52Unattended uses sensor technology to register doors or lids that have been open for longer than acceptable, refrigerated display temperatures above defined thresholds, etc. Sensors can automatically alert relevant staff when necessary, so that they can take action either remotely, by calling a local agent, or by going to the unattended store and fixing the problem themselves. Sensor technology often works with even low-budget video surveillance systems, so that you can use video to verify or reject reported sensor issues remotely, for example because the sensor alert you get includes video surveillance images.

How are groceries re-stocked?

Manually, which means that your unattended store will occasionally require staff attention in connection with re-stocking, removal of out-of-date or near-out-of-date articles, etc., just like it’s normal practice in regular stores. Many owners of unattended stores cherish the moments when they visit their unattended store to re-stock it, because that gives them the chance to meet and interact with their customers and listen to their requests, suggestions for new articles, etc. Note that the sales log in the unattended store’s management interface together with the unattended store’s video surveillance can greatly help you assess when it’s the optimal time to re-stock.

What to do when prices change?

Electronic shelf labels are highly suitable and recommended for unattended stores because they easily let you update prices remotely.

What if a customer needs support during their shopping?

With 52Unattended, shopping is so simple and easy that customers rarely need support, and 52Unattended offers user interfaces in several languages, so you can also accommodate customers who don’t speak your local language. To offer customers support during their shopping you have multiple options, from simply displaying a phone number for customers to call if they need support or using an intercom (like in elevators) to offering two-way video calls with a customer support team.

What if a customer falls ill inside the unattended store?

Advanced video surveillance systems can be set up to automatically detect objects, such as human bodies that don’t move or behave as if they’re ill. However, even with simple motion detection-based video surveillance systems, you can configure thresholds for periods of time with as well as without motion. This will help detect a customer who falls ill while they’re alone in the unattended store: When the customer enters the unattended store, they’ll generate motion. If the customer then passes out and falls to the floor, there’ll be no motion after a while. No motion is expected behavior when there’s no customer in the store, but in this case the system will know that there is a customer in the store because the access control system hasn’t registered that the customer has left. Longer periods of no motion when there’s a customer inside the store is unexpected behavior, so the system can automatically alert relevant people that there’s a possible emergency in the store, and responders can then use the video surveillance system to assess the situation and provide help when necessary.

What if a parent accidentally leaves a young child in the store?

Inside the store, there’ll be an emergency door opening mechanism by the exit door. If the child is too young to operate the emergency exit, the parent can use their registered card to enter the store again and help the child out. If the parent has left their card with the child inside the store, the parent can call (or get someone to call) the emergency number that’s prominently displayed inside as well as outside the store (as known from, for example, self-service gas stations).

How to be in compliance with regards to customer data?

To comply with GDPR, all customer data is stored on a secured network service, and only data relevant to the system, and for which the customer has granted their explicit consent, is stored in the system. If a customer wishes to leave the service, they can delete their profile at the kiosk service in the store. After a pre-communicated period of time for the store owner to investigate any wrongdoings, all the customer's personal data is then deleted from the system, while still following guidelines and legal requirements for financial transactions.

Can certain goods be restricted based on the customer’s age?

Yes, you can restrict sales of certain articles, for example energy drinks, alcoholic drinks, tobacco, or similar based on a customer’s age. Some unattended stores that sell such articles stock them in separate store areas that require age verification for access.

Can I manage customers?

Yes, in the web-based 52Unattended management interface, you can manage the customers of your unattended store, that is edit their properties, allocate discounts to them, delete them, place them on a negative list of unwanted customers, etc.

Can access to the store be denied?

Yes. First, customers who haven’t registered can’t enter a 52Unattended store. If a registered customer for some reason doesn’t live up to the agreed terms and conditions, you can revoke the customer’s right to access with immediate effect with the click of a button in the 52Unattended management interface. Technically, this will place the customer on a negative list and send a notification to the customer. If required, you can also delete registered customers.


Can I re-use the technology from an existing store?

Yes, you can most likely reuse doors and video surveillance systems already in place. However, that needs to be verified and/or amended upon inspection.

What if the internet connection to the store is lost when someone is shopping?

In case of a shutdown of network and/or electricity, customers will not have access to the store from the outside. Customers already in the store will have no other option than to leave the store using an analog door opening device, typically the emergency exit. The store owner will automatically get alerted if the 52Unattended portal can't communicate with the store for any reason.

Which installations and integrations are needed?

You need an unattended POS. To provide the best user experience this POS needs two API integrations to be able to:

  • Inject a campaign ID from 52Unattended for the customer to use loyalty functionality.
  • Deliver invoices on demand.

How to get support for a technical issue?

The 52Unattended management interface makes the store owner able to support their own shop. If the shop is part of a chain, a headquarters support team can help assist individual shops. If you get a support agreement with Fiftytwo or any of our affiliated partners, we can also provide support for individual shops remotely through the 52Unattended management interface. Local and on-premise support will be handled through your chain's normal support arrangement or decided on individual cases on a project basis.

Is it realistic to implement ‘Grab-and-Go’ technologies in an unattended store?

Not if you look at the business case for it. It’s true that some unattended stores in Asia, the US, and other places offer grab’n’go shopping where checkout isn’t needed. Such stores either use weights on shelves, video-based article recognition, or RFID technology so articles that the customer grabs are automatically registered and billed to the customer’s account or payment card as they leave the unattended store. However, the investments in equipment required to make such solutions work are disproportionately high compared to the typical revenue from an unattended store. That’s why implementing grab’n’go shopping is typically something that large chains do to be perceived as shopping technology frontrunners rather than because it’s financially viable for them. At Fiftytwo, we follow developments in shopping technology very closely, but we currently believe that there’s a significantly better business case in using existing, readily available, and very reasonably priced self-service checkouts with barcode scanners.


We have a customer loyalty program. Can our customers use it in unattended stores too?

Yes. For ultimate customer ease and flexibility, you can export relevant parts of your loyalty program database for integration into the 52Unattended store access database. That way, your loyalty program members are automatically registered to access and use the 52Unattended store and automatically get any loyalty benefits there too. If your loyalty program members aren’t validated through BankID/MitID, the system can be set up to ask them to validate the first time they use the unattended store. If you choose not to import loyalty program members, customers can register their existing customer club membership, or sign up for a customer club membership in case they don’t have one, when they register to get access to the 52Unattended store. In the simplest implementations, customers can scan their loyalty cards at checkout to get their benefits.

We’re not a big chain with a loyalty program. Can we still reward loyal customers in our unattended store?

You don’t have to be a big chain with an advanced loyalty program to reward customers for their loyalty. For example, many villager-backed unattended stores in rural areas reward customers who have helped finance the unattended store through buying a small denomination villager’s share, by granting them permanent discounts or other benefits. This proves that you don’t necessarily need to set up advanced solutions for an unattended store to provide a great shopping experience that attracts and retains a loyal customer base.

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