GDR visits … Dirty Lemon’s The Drug Store

Dec 04, 2018

GDR innovation researcher Babette-Scarlett Schossau describes the emotional rollercoaster of visiting a store where you can walk out without paying.

As a new customer to Dirty Lemon, I didn’t know what to expect when I walked into its New York store, known as The Drug Store. I had heard of the brand and of course I had come to check out what all the commotion was about regarding its honesty box-style, pay-by-text payment system.

From the outside, the store was rather unassuming – nestled in between what looked like residential buildings, I had to check twice to make sure I’d found the right place. It was almost as if the store was an insider spot – if you’d heard about it you’d find it, if not, you’d pass right by.

Looking in, the black-and-white-tiled store, with a potted plant in the corner and colourful drinks lined up in fridges, looked like nothing more than a small entrance lobby with a vending machine – except that it didn’t lead anywhere.

The only way was in and back out again, which was exactly the path I followed. After five minutes of contemplating what to get (an all-day energy ginseng drink, or an anti-inflammatory turmeric blend, perhaps a daily detox charcoal?), I grabbed a bottle, jotted down the number advertised on a screen next to the drinks, and, with no checkout or security procedures to traverse, I was on my way.

I came out with a smile – it felt strangely liberating to walk into an unmanned store, grab what I wanted, and then just go. But there was also another emotion that started settling in: pride for being an honest customer and not abusing Dirty Lemon’s trust in me. They gave me a choice to pay, and I willingly, happily chose to do so.

I was not alone. In my five minutes of choosing which drink to get, three other young women stepped through the doors and were chatting about how they had heard about the store via Instagram, and that they couldn’t believe they could actually just step back into the street before paying for their drink.

Walk out we all did, and we all chose to pay afterwards. Why? Because we loved the thrill of simply walking out with a $10.89 bottle, and the power this gave us to either accept or decline the transaction. Not that we would have rejected it – that would have taken away the thrill of showing what good people and loyal customers we are.


Instead, I texted the advertised number as I was walking away from the store. They asked me for my name and email when I told them what I’d taken. I entered my payment details via a link, they confirmed the amount, and the casual exchange was over, rounded off with a friendly ‘X.’ Another smile spread across my face, and I was already thinking about buying my next drink.

News & insights straight to your inbox!