As consumers put more and more value on their time, it’s no surprise brick-and-mortar stores are increasingly relying on automation to speed up the shopping experience.
By 2021, Amazon Go plans to open 3,000 of its unmanned stores where customers will shop with no face-to-face interaction. It currently has three locations in Seattle, and a new store just opened in Chicago. Each one offers “Just Walk Out” shopping, powered by hundreds of cameras and sensors to record shoppers movements and purchases. To enter the store, customers scan their phone on a turnstile. Amazon says the stores don’t use facial recognition, just image recognition, which is cross-referenced with weight sensors on the shelves to understand which items have been grabbed.
But Amazon isn’t alone in this race to roll out unmanned doors. Three competing cashierless mini-markets launched within a month in San Francisco, including Standard Cognition, which actually beat them to opening. Meanwhile, on a global basis, they’re competing with everyone from China’s Alibaba to South Korea’s Lotte.
From facial recognition to palm-reading and payment via SMS, here are six further examples of automated stores we’re tracking:
Jack & Jones and Vero Moda
In China, facial recognition technology is so commonplace that you don’t need even a mobile phone to shop. Fashion retailers Jack & Jones and Vero Moda opened smart stores using this system in Shenzhen and Guangzhou. First, shoppers complete a facial recognition registration in-store that connects their face with WeChat Pay. At the exit, a digital kiosk reads their face and authorizes the payment. This technology, when combined with AI, helps boost sales; in the fitting room, the mirror also uses facial recognition to identify customers and recommend items based on their shopping history.
Alibaba also has its own cashierless grocery store, Hema. Launched in 2015, it’s expanded to 46 stores in 13 cities in China. At Hema, self-checkout kiosks use facial recognition to connect with Alipay, the company’s payment app, while digital screens display product details and dynamic prices that update automatically via Wifi-connected, e-ink price tags. In the next five years, Alibaba plans to expand Hema to 2,000 more branches.
Albert Heijn, a major supermarket chain in the Netherlands, has implemented technology to let customers scan and bag items as they shop more easily than ever. They have two checkout-free stores where customers can tap their phone or credit card on a shelf tag for the items they want. 10 minutes later, the customers’ bank accounts are debited for the amount they spent. If a shopper wants to put back an item, they reverse the chargers by tapping on the tag again.
Cult beverage brand Dirty Lemon made their way from online to real-life this summer. The company’s first store opened last month in New York’s Tribeca neighborhood. Shoppers pay via SMS, a heatmap tracker monitors the footsteps of people walking in and out, and RFID technology in the coolers keeps track of inventory. SMS payments isn’t new to Dirty Lemon’s shoppers – the website takes orders exclusively through mobile devices. To order, the customer has to link a credit card number to their phone, which makes it easy to restock by just texting.
South Korean mega group, Lotte, which owns the likes of Lotte Department Stores, introduced biometric verification of palm veins to its credit card Lotte Card, in partnership with Fujitsu. The result, HandPay, which aims to combat fraud, means users can literally just scan their own hand to pay for their items. Lotte has now begun installing self-registration for such technology at two 7-Eleven convenience stores in Seoul. Soon, the company plans to install these self-registers at all of its subsidiaries, including Lotte Department Stores, Lotterias, and Hi-Marts.
This one is still in prototype, but made the list for the way in which it’s innovating automated retail by putting it on wheels. MobyMart is an unstaffed, mobile grocery store from Swedish startup, Wheelys, that travels in a self-driving vehicle you can “hail” from an app. Payment works through RFID tags that are scanned via phone. There’s also image analysis to track inventory and collect data on customer behavior. For now, this is a beta project that has been running for six months on a university campus in Shanghai. Even though it might take some time for this prototype to hit the streets, the idea looks convenient, especially for remote areas.
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