Imagine having a debit card issued at the bank, paying for parking, ordering a burger for lunch, and going grocery shopping after work, all without bumping into a single clerk.
Only this isn't just in your imagination. Unstaffed stores are quickly becoming part of our daily lives.
In this bank in Seoul, People take a queue ticket from the kiosk and face a tediously long wait for their turn.
Sitting in one corner of the bank is "Smart Lounge," a digital kiosk introduced in late 2015.
The kiosk handles banking services that were previously unavailable from ATMs, such as opening an installment savings account or issuing a debit card.
"The digital kiosk can handle 107 tasks, including new account openings and online banking applications and deposits and withdrawals. It remains open all year round, providing access to banking services even during holidays."
The smart lounge kiosk can cover up to 90 percent of a bank teller's duties.
For the past year, it issued more than 10,000 debit cards and handled nearly 800 tasks including online banking sign-ups, which is equivalent to about 2,300 working hours of a bank teller.
How is the kiosk service being received by users?
"Sometimes, I need to go to the bank on holidays. I can use the kiosk whenever I want to, which is convenient. "
A growing number of retailers are introducing a touchscreen digital kiosk that does not require human presence.
Unstaffed stores can be also found overseas. Last year, retail giant Amazon launched Amazon Go, a Seattle-based brick-and-mortar grocery store with no checkout lines. Shoppers check in with their apps at the door, collect their purchases from the shelves and walk out.
In San Francisco, U.S., there is a fully mechanized coffee shop where customers order their drinks using a dedicated app and a robotic arm makes coffee.
A convenience store chain in Japan has recently installed an automated checkout system. When customers put a basket on the counter, the system settles the transaction and places the purchased items into a plastic bag.
A U.S.-based market research firm estimated that the global digital kiosk market would reach 17.2 billion U.S. dollars by 2020, more than a twofold growth from 2016.
Why is the concept of unstaffed stores gaining ground in the retail sector?
"Automation ensures uniform service quality. In addition, recent advances in technology such as artificial intelligence and voice recognition have enabled automated responses in smart devices. "
Seoul‘s Gwanghwamun area is swamped by office workers during lunch hours. After entering a burger joint, these people make a beeline for a kiosk to place an order.
They prefer using a self-serve kiosk that not only takes orders but also handles payments.
"There can be a long queue during lunch hours. If I use the self-serve kiosk, I don't need to wait in line. It shows different menu items to choose from and handles payments. It is convenient, so I use it a lot. "
The burger chain introduced self-serve kiosks in 2014. Currently, they are used by about 34 percent, or 460 of its 1,340 restaurants across the country. It looks to expand the use of kiosks.
"The use of kiosks helped cut down wait time and increase sales. Self-serve kiosks account for 10 to 15% of total orders, and we have seen our sales rise. "
However, some remain skeptical about the rise of unattended stores.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, unattained retail is expected to put roughly 3.4 million cashier jobs at risk across the country.
The growth of unattained kiosks may not be necessarily welcome news for Korea, where a youth employment rate stands at about 27 percent.
"It could create a digital divide where those who are excluded from using smart devices do not have access to customer service. This may become a social issue."
Self-serve kiosks are heralded as the future of retail, but there are concerns about job losses due to automation.
Experts say a joint effort by the government and the private sector to create new kind of jobs in the era of automation is crucial to overcoming this issue.