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Memphis
DeShaunta Bullock Reports

Automated Drive-In Shopping

A sample screen at White Station's Smart Mart. (smartmartinc.com) A sample screen at White Station's Smart Mart. (smartmartinc.com)

July 16, 2003 - Posted at: 10:30 p.m. CDT

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Sometimes stopping at a gas station or convenience store is not exactly convenient. That could all change now as the world's first fully automated drive through station is up and running in Memphis.

Some customers are thrilled, while others wonder if it's really worth it.

The new automated "Smart Mart" allows customers to shop, get gas, or a car wash without ever leaving the comfort of their cars.

"You can just drive up like a McDonalds, or fast food place. It's easier," customer Samm LaForce said.

Over 1,900 items are available to customers. They can even purchase alcohol or cigarettes with ID verification from store cameras. The store's inventor says that now-a-days, people just don't have enough time.

"If you need to pick up a few things on your way home from work," Mike Rivalto said. "It makes your life more convenient."

LaForce says the concept is the future of shopping.

"I think it's going to be a computer-based world today anyway. And as lazy as our society is, I think we could use a lot more of them."

Rivalto says stores like Smart Mart take the guess work out of shopping. Customers can pull up to a station and select the items they want from a touch screen. Rivalto says this cuts the time they spend in a store by half.

There are some customers that say Smart Mart may not be as convenient as it seems.

"If I would have know it would be this big a hassle I would have pushed it on somewhere else," Mike Stockcamp has said.

Stockcamp says Smart Mart also takes away the human factor. By contrast, Rivalto says that is one of his store's benefits.

"Last year alone 93 clerks were shot and killed," Rivalto said. "It would cut out the overhead."

Stockcamp argues that getting rid of employees isn't necessarily a good thing.

"I don't see any benefit if you're paying cash because you eliminate workers," he said. "If you have workers you can get your change back. (What) if you don't how do you get your change back?"

Rivalto says that like ATM machines, people will become more comfortable with automated stores as they learn how to use them. Rivalto says that he has already invested $9 million into the fully automated stores. If all goes well, he plans to expand internationally.

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