The concept of the unmanned store, in which there is no service personnel like cashiers, has become noticeable in recent years. The technology model is expected to become a new change in the retail market around the world. We talked with Robert Ilijason – who build the first unmanned store in the Nordics and is now founder of HonestBox – a new rising startup in unmanned trading solution.

Q: Your concept is for both unmanned stores and convenience kiosks. Where do you see the biggest interest from the market right now?

“The biggest interest is within the Micromarket space. Even though offices are empty, we get orders from sports arenas (mostly from the red-hot padel segment,) gyms and logistic centers. People are bored with traditional vending machines and interested in the fridges.

That said, there’s recently been an uptick from farmer shops, which I appreciate on a personal level. It’s really great to give producers an opportunity to sell directly to their customers, without middlemen. [In Sweden] an extension of the popular Reko-ring movement.”

Q: “Unmanned store” are expected to be “the next big thing” in the retail market, however, people are also sceptical. In some places, the hype for this model ended as quickly as it just began. In your point of view, what is the biggest challenge of this concept in general?

“The first wave of stores focused on the tech instead of the customer experience; cool, rather than convenient. Tech people operated the stores, not traditional retailers. This made the whole segment feel like a cool gimmick, not something you’d really want to use every day.

What we see now is that traditional retailers, both large – like ICA and Coop in Sweden – and small – like vending operators ones – are entering the space. Thanks to these experienced shopkeepers, the focus is shifting from tech to the customer and I believe that will give the space a big push forward.

It should all be about the customer journey. It doesn’t matter that the store is manned, unmanned or robomanned when all you want to do is buying a few bottles of Rscued.”

Q: How far has HonestBox expanded the market until now? How COVID-19 pandemic affected HonestBox in the process of market expansion?

“We’ve managed to get our solution to over 100 stores – large and small – across Sweden. From Malmö in the south (although we’re about to get one in Trelleborg) to Moskosel in the north. We hope to hit 500 by the end of the year.

While Covid partly helped fuel the interest in unstaffed solutions, it also did hinder us from going out and talking to customers face-to-face. To hit 500 we need handshakes to be physical again.”

Q: Having nearly 20 years of experience as an engineer, advisor, writers and working with big companies, but you still choose to launch a startup model. What is the motivation to start a new thing while you already have a considerably stable career?

“Because it’s a different kind of fun! Working with an established company is great in that you have set boundaries, limiting what craziness you can come up with (helping with the focus), and a better budget, making all the tools you need readily available. Most importantly, the things you do can quickly have a real impact on a lot of people. Often across the globe.

It’s when you feel those boundaries limit you that you need to do something else. In a startup, it’s all up to you. No one can tell you what to do and how to do it. It kindles different parts of your brain. Very exciting.”

Robert started out at Mindpark in the beginning, and is now part of the E-commerce Park of Sweden. HonestBox now is active on multiple locations in southern Sweden.