At the end of last year, Amazon showed off its automated Go grocery store concept. But for now, it is still in the testing phase and has not opened its Go stores to the public. However, unmanned convenience stores have attracted lots of attention from startups and investors in China.
As previously reported, unmanned convenience store F5 future store secured its Series A+ financing round in June. Another unmanned 24-hour self-service store, BingoBox closed its USD 14.5 million Series A financing round in May, and opened an unmanned store in Shanghai.
Moreover, just a few days earlier, China’s e-commerce conglomerate Alibaba unveiled its own partially automated café at the second Taobao Maker Festival in Hangzhou.
Among these unmanned convenience stores, BingoBox has opened eight stores in China, and has served more than 10,000 customers since it opened its first store in Guangdong last year. How could these unmanned convenience stores attract investors to pour funding into them and what challenges will they face?
This is a typical Bingbox store, and it covers an area of more than 10 square meters. The shop has no staff and all purchase processes are completed by the customers. To enter the store, customers have to scan the QR code on the door through WeChat or its app. The door locks after customers enter the shop, and then they can browse and purchase goods on their own.
Though the store is not large, it claims it features a great variety of goods with 800 stock keeping units in one store. BingoBox said that it needs to ensure all of its products such as fruits remain fresh. In addition, it mainly sells convenient goods including biscuits, instant noodles, snacks, wine, drinks and some other fast-moving consumer goods.
One advantage that BingoBox has is that its goods are priced lower than those in other convenience stores.
Customers can scan the QR codes of goods via smartphones and complete the payment online, and then leave the store. If they are buying many items, they can also calculate the total price at the electronic cashier which will automatically identify the price label on each product. The customers can pay the bill through scanning the QR code on the electric cashier with WeChat, Alipay or Bingbox’s app. The alarm will be triggered if anyone tries to leave the shop with any unpaid products.
The advantages and challenges of unmanned convenience stores
As to why there is a boost in unmanned convenience stores in China, there are two reasons. On one hand, it is “unmanned” so there is no need to pay the cost of hiring employees. Thus, it can offer lower prices for its products than other convenience stores. On the other hand, it follows the trend that we call “New Retail” in China that Alibaba’s founder Jack Ma often brings up in his speeches. This is not only a new way of O2O which integrates online payments with offline services, but it is also a new shopping experience with higher efficiency and better user experience.
Moreover, this business model can be easily applied to new cities, as its unmanned stores are managed by a highly standardized automated system.
Unmanned stores can face problems such as the accuracy of label identification on each product. Moreover, Bingbox prefers to open its unmanned convenience stores in neighborhoods where there are some elderly who may not be familiar with this way of purchasing goods, so they need some time to get used to it.
Theft used to be a potential problem for traditional convenience stores. However, it will not be a problem for these unmanned convenience stores as these stores are equipped with cameras for all-direction monitor. Hence, it will be a high risk task for those who want to steal in these stores.
Bingbox aims to open 5,000 unmanned convenience stores in China by the end of 2017, and enhance the self-service purchase experience through the integration of advanced technologies such as facial and voice recognition for order placements and payment, introducing AI technology to improve store security, and using big data to recommend the hottest products for customers to purchase in a bid to boost sales.
What expectations do you have shopping in an unmanned convenience store?
(Top photo from 58pic.com)