Self-driving Cars, Gasless Gas Stations and the Opportunity for Checkout-free Retail

By Gary Jacobus - February 23, 2022

At Zippin we spend a lot of time thinking about the future of retail. Stores without cashiers seemed like a futuristic dream five years ago, and today checkout-free stores are a reality. We have close to 50 stores operating at stadiums, airports, rail stations and other venues across the U.S. where people are shopping without checking out. So what’s next?

It’s no surprise that other industries, especially the automotive industry, are gaining traction when it comes to autonomous and AI-driven advances. Leaders in the electric vehicle space like Tesla, are working hard to provide charging stations that are as reliable and omnipresent as gas stations are today. The key difference? Drivers are going to spend up to 40 minutes at these gasless gas stations as they wait for their vehicles to charge. So when it comes to customer experience: are those drivers expected to sit in their car scrolling through social media, or could the station provide far more?  

The opportunity for checkout-free technology

At Zippin we see a huge opportunity for checkout-free stores to help keep drivers engaged while their cars are getting juiced up. It’s our prediction that checkout-free stores will be synonymous with these reimagined gas stations. 

Fast Company recently reported on an international architecture competition to design a service station for a world where electric vehicles dominate. We saw some beautiful alternatives to the oil-stained forecourts we visit today. In a future where cars need to be recharged daily, architects were tasked with thinking what else people may experience while waiting for their car to charge. 

The winner of the competition, James Silvester, proposed that the buildings would have “...modular design (that) would make it quick to build and flexible enough to accommodate a wide variety of sites.” In the entries we saw gyms and walking paths, with mention of the spaces being built for all manner of food or shopping as well. The only omission? They didn’t make the obvious connection to autonomous retail.

While we don’t expect EV charging to always take over half an hour, the function of plugging in, just as you refill with gas today, is likely to be the ongoing reality. As charging options get faster, the gasless stations of the future will need to tailor their offerings to the consumers they serve. 

We believe that drivers —who are now used to digital wallets, smart home systems, and scheduled deliveries, will also expect the same level of convenience as they charge their car. Checkout-free retail will be the natural solution for rest (and charging) areas of the future.

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