A hundred years ago, just about everybody did much of their shopping at the local corner store. Then the family car made the big supermarket cheaper and more convenient for one-stop shopping, and the mom-and-pop store disappeared. In many small towns the change was even more dramatic; if the Walmart opened in the next town, that’s where people went to shop for anything.

It’s much the same in Sweden, where IT specialist Robert Ilisason was looking for baby food in the middle of the night and had to drive to the next town, 20 kilometres (12 miles) from Viken, where he lives. Being in IT, of course his response to this dilemma was to wrote an app, Näraffar, which opens the door to his little shop, which stocks essentials like baby food, diapers, milk, essentials — and judging from the photos on the AP source of this story, a whole lot of munchies. What's different is that there's no one manning the store.

The name of the app means "shop nearby" and it's tied into the Swedish banking ID, which everybody uses. In fact, so few people use cash in Scandinavia that they are discontinuing it. This protects Ilisason, who tells the Daily Mail:

To enter you need to use your app where you identify yourself using BankID which is a Swedish ID solution used by the banks. So I know who you are and will only allow you in if you have no history of credit issues. Secondly, I have every inch of the store checked by at least one camera.

He also gets a text message if the front door is open for more than eight seconds and he lives close enough that he can run down there with a crowbar.

It’s an interesting solution for small communities where a 24-hour store can’t be justified. Ilijason tells AP: “My ambition is to spread this idea to other villages and small towns,” said Ilijason. “It is incredible that no one has thought of his before.”

vending machinesVending machines can do all this too. (Photo: Wikipedia)

At which point one has to point out that people have thought of this before; it’s called the vending machine. In Japan, for example, you can get just about everything you need, including milk, diapers and some rather obscure sex aids. According to BoingBoing, “there are 118,000 machines selling razors and socks and an impressive 5,500 issuing cans of noodles."

Ilijason’s business — security cameras and app notwithstanding — relies to some extent on trust, and on the fact that in small town Sweden, he is not likely bringing a crowbar to a gunfight. The vending machine is probably a more sensible solution anywhere else.

And then there's an American version of this, ShelfX, where in this video you can see a zombie-like woman enter the unstaffed store, open the refrigerated cases and pick up a Coke and leave. It’s a lot bigger and a lot fancier, really a walk-in vending machine. As they say at the end, the future is near.

Lloyd Alter ( @lloydalter ) writes about smart (and dumb) tech with a side of design and a dash of boomer angst.