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Editor's pick Retail technology

Amazon Go has competition: Meet 6 other automated stores transforming retail

Amazon Go
Amazon Go

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
Jack & Jones

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.

Hema
Alibaba’s Hema store

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
Albert Heijn

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.

Dirty Lemon
Dirty Lemon

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.

Lotte
Lotte

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.

MobyMart
MobyMart

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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Editor's pick mobile Retail technology

4 ways Asia is supercharging retail with tech-enabled physical experiences

Alibaba and Ford's car vending machine
Alibaba and Ford’s car vending machine

Much has been said about the death of the store at the hands of the digital era, but retailers and brands with physical footprints are increasingly harnessing technology to instil a sense of connectivity and immersion in their spaces.

Front and center within that is the Asia market, which is setting the standard by responding to consumers’ avid connected behavior and facilitating increasingly digitized physical journeys that perfectly blend both realities.

Here, we highlight four of our favorite recent brand examples.

Ford and Alibaba’s unstaffed car vending machine

Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba has partnered with automaker Ford on a cat-shaped car vending machine in China that allows potential buyers the chance to try-before-they-buy. The structure, located in Guangzhou, is completely self-directed and available only to Alibaba’s Super Members, the highest tier of membership in the retailer’s program.

Once users go through a background check on the Alibaba app, they can select their preferred vehicle and head to one of the Super Test-Drive Centers. Arriving at the location, they can use either facial recognition or a login code to trigger the test-drive experience, which they can do for up to three days.

Starbucks’ augmented coffee mecca
Starbucks Reserve Roastery AR experience
Starbucks Reserve Roastery AR experience

Starbucks meanwhile is focusing on augmented reality in its new Shanghai Reserve Roastery, where the coffee brand tapped into the Chinese consumer’s mobile-first behavior by creating a digital scavenger hunt.

Available through Taobao, consumers have to scan a code in-store and then proceed to scan coffee machines and brewers around the store to trigger content. Doing so with such physical objects activates animations on the mobile screen, and then offers the user more information on the coffee making process, such as how specific machines roast the coffee.

By offering consumers more branded storytelling through mobile, the company aligns with its Reserve Roastery concept ethos, which is to act as a mecca on all things coffee-making, and serve avid customers accordingly.

Shiseido’s smart diagnosis and brand content mirrors
Shiseido's smart mirror
Shiseido’s smart mirror

Smart mirrors might not be anything new within the ‘tech in-store’ discussion, but at Shiseido’s recently opened flagship in the Ginza Six shopping complex in Tokyo, the connected device offers more granular and personalized content than we’ve seen before, including around diagnosis.

Customers visiting the store can have their picture taken by a smart mirror, which results in a skin analysis and step-by-step guidance on screen on how to apply a curation of products. Afterwards, users can scan a QR code generated on the screen to put their counselling data on their own phone.

Additional features in Shiseido’s tech-enabled store, include screens that change visuals whenever someone is within two meters of them, as well as smart tables that recognize when a specific product has been picked up, and generate information on a smart screen accordingly.

Jack & Jones and Vero Moda’s facial recognition payments
Jack & Jones
Jack & Jones

You can’t talk about Asia without mentioning WeChat, and in this instance the future of payments. Danish fashion brands Jack & Jones and Vero Moda, part of the Bestseller group, have recently opened smart stores in two Chinese locations that are powered by Tencent’s facial recognition technology, allowing customers to pay with their face.

Located in Shenzhen and Guangzhou, the smart stores allow shoppers to shop without the need for cash or even their mobile phones. After completing the facial recognition registration at digital kiosks in-store, shoppers become members of the Tencent’s “AI Club”, which is powered by WeChat Pay. When checking out, they can then use the feature to complete the payment, which is debited through their WeChat wallets.

Beyond cashless (and mobile-less) payment capabilities, the entire store experiences can be automated. At the fitting room, the same technology is applied – once the shopper is recognized by a smart screen, they can receive recommendations based on past purchases.