Unmanned convenience stores have become the latest trend in China’s ever changing tech scene, enabled by mobile payment and supported by an array of advanced technologies including facial recognition and voice recognition.
This summer, little-known tech start-up BingoBox opened its first unmanned convenience store in Shanghai, where 25 million urban dwellers depend heavily on 24-hour stores.
BingoBox customers start shopping after they are admitted via facial recognition to a container-like structure stocked with products supplied by French supermarket chain Auchan. Security measures ensure that those inside the store are customers and not shoplifters who entered illegally, with sensors and cameras scattered throughout the area that identify items in the shoppers’ carts and automatically charge the customer’s WeChat Wallet, a smartphone-enabled mobile payment, as they walk out the door.
With a dozen such stores under trial operation in China, BingoBox is looking to beat much bigger companies to become the first to commercialise the grab-and-go shopping model on a national scale.
In theory, unmanned stores that are open 24 hours a day can reduce labour costs and lower retail prices for customers. They also provide consumer insight – the cameras can also capture the facial expressions of customers while they look at products.
In mid-July, Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group unveiled its Tao Cafe unmanned shop concept, though the group has no plans to commercialise it yet.
“China has already become the frontline of innovation in the internet industry, especially in the area of weaving online technology with the offline experience,” says Neil Wang, greater China president for market research firm Frost & Sullivan, adding that the key driver behind the new retail model is the high penetration of virtual pay systems like Alipay and Wechat Pay, and the increasing acceptability of these innovations.
“Unlike other innovations, such as shared bikes, the development of new retail models is getting the support from giant players at the very beginning, as online shopping giants such as Alibaba and JD.com are actively seeking to expand into the offline retail industry where their online technology can be well utilised,” Wang continues.
Earlier this month Alibaba unveiled its latest new retail endeavour – the Hema grocery chain with a fully integrated online and offline experience. The chain, which already has 13 stores across China, allow customers to shop, eat in, and order groceries for delivery – all through their mobile phones.
Adapted with permission from the South China Morning Post