Automation Innovation Keeps Danish Shops Open
THE recycling programme run by The Salvation Army’s Denmark and Greenland Territory has come up with an innovative solution to the problem of falling volunteer numbers – an automated store that can open without any staff present.
Territorial Recycling Manager Gert Pedersen explains: ‘We were already finding it difficult to recruit enough volunteers but then the COVID-19 pandemic made things worse. Lots of our older volunteers stopped because of safety and haven’t come back. In the past few years we had to close four shops because of the lack of volunteers, so we looked at how we could run a shop without needing volunteers to be present from 10 am to 5 pm.’
The first automated shop was opened in June in the Frederiksberg area of Copenhagen, about five minutes from territorial headquarters. The Salvation Army recycling shop on the site has been running for about 10 years, but in recent days had to reduce its hours because of the difficulty in recruiting volunteers.
As Gert says, ‘Every day a store is closed it loses money.’
The system at the automated shop is simple. Gert explains: ‘There is a sign on the shop door with a phone number on it. You send a text message to that number, the door clicks open and you can enter.’
Once in, customers can browse as usual, with cameras recording for security purposes. ‘The stock is 95 per cent clothing,’ says Gert. ‘You can try things on and then, when you’ve decided what to buy, you scan a barcode and pay with your card or smartphone.’
The automated shop can open for longer hours – currently 8 am to 8 pm – and volunteers are only needed to help with restocking. Gert says this is another advantage: ‘There is more freedom for a volunteer. Instead of having to be at the shop for certain hours to serve customers, we can say to people: “Please come in for two hours on Tuesday – it doesn’t matter when.”’
Two months into the experiment, things are going better than expected. ‘Sales have actually gone up because of the longer hours of opening,’ says Gert, although he suspects that tourists visiting Copenhagen in the summer months may have affected the figures.
A second automated shop is due to open in September at a new location. Gert will be keeping a close eye on how it works, with the potential that up more new automated shops will open, probably overseen by one manager. Another possibility is that an automated shop will open in partnership with a volunteer-run store, allowing the volunteers to keep the automated shop stocked while engaging fully with customers at their own premises.
That is for the future. Today, the Frederiksberg shop continues to support The Salvation Army’s ministry to Denmark’s most vulnerable people. How it works in the long-term remains to be seen but, for now, Gert simply says: ‘We are thrilled.’
Report by Kevin Sims