Practical, digital and fresh: avec box and avec X are Switzerland’s most modern convenience stores. Come in, do your shopping and pay via an app – practically around the clock and without having to stand at a cash register. As digital as these formats may appear, they wouldn’t work without people. We introduce two of them here.
Consumer Application Developer
“You can actually imagine it as follows: I am responsible for ensuring that the app works as simply as it does when you use it”. When we ask what exactly Andreas’s job is, his automatic response is to describe it in layman’s terms. This is presumably because as a Consumer Application Developer he has realised that his work is so abstract that many people lack the imagination to picture what he does. He has been working for Valora for three and a half years and is one of the people without whom it would not have been possible to open either avec box or avec X on 6 April 2019. In October 2018, when the final green light was given for both of the new formats, he was made responsible for coordinating the mobile app. After some initial workshops dealing with, for example, encryption, registration and user identification, Valora was ready to start developing the app in mid-January 2019.
The development of the digital shop key
A team spanning three time zones developed the avec app, which effectively provides avec box and avec X customers with a shop key: From the functions that customers find in the app and the networking with the shop to the associated systems. For example, the flawless scanning of identity cards, the saving of a credit card and the function that allows for the avec box doors to be opened with the app. This sounds simple but there is a great deal of work behind it. Before the store doors open, for instance, the system not only checks whether the customer has saved a credit card in the app, but also whether the card in question is valid at precisely this moment and can be charged. “It therefore may be the case that the door opens with a few seconds’ delay.” Based on the experiences gathered and customer feedback, Andreas has continuously improved the app and made it more stable.
From mechanic to computer scientist
Andreas started his professional career with an apprenticeship as a mechanic. For many years, he worked in manufacturing, making compressor wheels for turbochargers, among other things, that now do their work somewhere on the world’s oceans in enormous freighters and passenger ships. At some point, however, he realised that it’s not only his taste in music that is very digital, but also that this was the direction that his future work should take. He therefore bravely decided to replace his work as a mechanic with a course which would see him study to become a computer scientist. “It really wasn’t easy for me, in the middle of my life, to become a student again with a student wage and as a final consequence to have to move back in with my parents”, he recalls. It truly proved worthwhile, however. “In my current job, I never get bored as I not only share responsibility for the future of Valora, but also contribute to shaping the entire Swiss retail sector.”
Manager of avec box
What is left for the staff to do when everything works automatically for the customers? “That surely has to be one of the top three questions I hear,” explains Michael Bamert. Since the launch of the avec X future store and avec box, he has been on the front line as Manager and is proud when he can inform customers that they can shop without the need for a checkout register.
The focus is on supporting our customers
“Just one task has been eliminated: working the checkout register. Instead of just standing at the checkout register or stocking shelves, we have more time for our customers,” says the 32-year old. Initial fears that staff would lose contact with customers were quickly dispelled. “Of course there are customers who only have two minutes to catch their train. They rush in and out again. In this case, customer contact is restricted to a nod of the head and a short hello.” Seen overall, he has less “Hello-Goodbye-Thanks” contact than in a traditional avec outlet. Generally speaking, customers approach him with more curiosity. A proud pensioner who pulls out her phone “just to try” the app, enthusiastic students and entire groups of tourists make for much variety. “I very much enjoy talking to customers and helping them. I also appreciate the valuable feedback.”
In addition to helping customers, he and his team take care of overall store management: placing orders, accepting and storing deliveries, maintaining the store’s condition and performing a range of administrative tasks.
New tasks through digitization
His job profile is vastly different from that of a traditional sales outlet: “It’s like comparing chalk and cheese. In part, we’re still moving in uncharted territory with these automated stores and we’re constantly working on optimisation. In summary, the wealth of technology in the store makes our work considerably more varied.” In the avec box, Michael feels as if he’s two or three years ahead in the future.
Michael also greatly enjoys coaching his staff: “I like sharing my knowledge and learning new things from our mutual exchanges.” Michael has been working for Valora since 2014. He started as a salesperson in an avec store, but was soon promoted. “I also had good coaches who made this possible for me,” says a thankful Michael. He also enjoys the mix of technology and small talk with customers, as this makes every day in the store interesting for the employees.
avec X and avec box
On 6 April 2019, Valora’s first checkout free convenience stores opened their doors with avec box and the avec X future store at Zurich’s main station. Access, shopping and payment are controlled by the avec app. In the new stores, convenience refers not only to the product range, but the entire shopping experience, which can be done even more comfortably, at your own pace and outside of normal business hours.
avec box offers a tried-and-tested range of convenience products, including fresh food to eat on the go, everyday food items and the most important household products. Following the three-week pilot at Zurich main station in April 2019, avec box is being tested on the Hönggerberg campus of ETH Zurich since September 2019. The plan is to place the next store in Wetzikon in Canton Zurich, after which the concept should be rolled out to other regions in Switzerland.
The avec x future store will be Valora’s innovation laboratory for the shopping experience of the future. Customers will be constantly introduced to the latest food convenience trends here. Digital shopping experiences will also be tested, such as new payment options and personalised shopping. For test purposes, it has also been possible since summer to pay for purchases at self-checkout registers during the day and in the evening. There are currently no plans to roll out avec X in other regions. Valora will further develop the tested ideas on the basis of customer feedback and will ideally integrate them into its other sales formats such as avec and k kiosk.
Photos, Video: Noë Flum, nonophotography / Video: Nische Productions
This article appeared for the first time on 10 May 2019 and was updated on 19 February 2020.