Photos: Alibaba showcases a partially automated café at the Taobao Maker Festival, & more

What will the future of cafés or convenience stores look like? China’s e-commerce conglomerate Alibaba gave us some idea when it exhibited a partially automated café during its second Taobao Maker Festival held from July 8 to 12 in Hangzhou.

Here is how Alibaba’s Taocafe looks like:

Consumers are required to scan the QR code on their Taobao app, an online shopping platform owned by Alibaba, to enter Taocafe. The cameras on the gate machines will take photos of consumers and store them in its database.
If you are a coffee lover, let the machine know what you want. Through voice and facial recognition, the machine will be able to recognize your identity and preferences. After your order is confirmed, the machine will automatically charge this to your Taobao account and the shop assistants behind the counter will make your coffee.
Shoppers are free to pick any item at the café and the store system will record which items they have taken away by utilizing biological recognition technology, sensors, and other technology.
After collecting the items you want from the store, you need to enter this small glass room for checkout. The cameras in the room will take note of the items to be charged through your Taobao account.

As compared to Amazon’s partially automated grocery store Amazon Go, the checkout process of Taocafe appears to be a little bit awkward and somewhat scary. It is more like a security scanner in some airports. In contrast, Amazon Go’s consumers can simply check out by walking through the automated gates just as how they came in.

Besides Taocafe, the Taobao Maker Festival features 108 physical stores whose owners are all young people running original online shops on Taobao. Alibaba hopes to encourage creativity and entrepreneurship of the younger generation by holding this festival.

Here are some selected stores from the festival:

Musiccanvas sells vintage speakers made of paper. The male owner loves radios while his wife loves painting. So they combined their hobbies together and created these distinctive paper speakers.
House of Oiled Paper Umbrella features handmade paper umbrellas. The young owner’s grandfather was an umbrella maker. He inherited the art from his grandfather and opened the paper umbrella store on Taobao. He sells more than 1,000 umbrellas in a year.
This store has nothing to sell but real stories. The owner sells stories that she has heard of or contributed by readers. She distributes 80 percent of the sales income to the protagonists of the stories.
Papa’s Carpentry House sells wooden handicrafts made by the owner’s father who is a carpenter. His story was previously made into a documentary.
How Bottle sells T-shirts and bags made out of recycled plastic bottles. The shop owner said that it takes 12 plastic bottles to make a T-shirt and three bottles to make a bag.
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