New voice, face recog­ni­tion tech could trans­form tra­di­tional re­tail

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - BUSINESS - By REN XIAOJIN renx­i­ao­jin@chi­nadaily.com.cn

Chi­nese e-com­merce gi­ant and data tech­nol­ogy provider Alibaba Group has just un­veiled a cashier-free re­tail store.

The on­line group has joined other re­tail chains and tech star­tups flock­ing into the mar­ket with their own so­lu­tions, mak­ing staff-less re­tail one of the hottest tech trends.

Tao Cafe opened for a trial run on July 8. In the foot­steps of the Ama­zon Go store that made a big de­but last year with its use of track­ing cam­eras, it uti­lizes a fa­cial and voice recog­ni­tion sys­tem.

Pur­chases are tracked by a fa­cial recog­ni­tion cam­era, and the sys­tem au­to­mat­i­cally gen­er­ates bills as soon as cus­tomers walk out of the spe­cially de­signed gate that can iden­tify them with bi­o­log­i­cal sens­ing tech­nol­ogy.

Kick­ing it off be­fore Alibaba, Guang­dong-based tech startup Bin­goBox started to spread its ver­sion of staff-less stores, af­ter be­ing granted 100 mil­lion yuan ($14.8 mil­lion) in its first round of fi­nanc­ing.

Un­like Tao Cafe, Bin­gobox is more of a hy­brid be­tween con­ve­nience stores and vend­ing ma­chines, where cus­tomers can walk in and pay by scan­ning QR codes on their phone. This by­passes eye con­tact and small talk that nor­mally take place with cashiers in tra­di­tional stores.

“By the end of Au­gust, we are ex­pect­ing to open 200 more Bin­gobox stores,” said Chen Zilin, CEO of Bin­gobox.

“We only cost a quar­ter of a tra­di­tional con­ve­nience store, and run­ning costs are oneeighth.”

Neil Wang, pres­i­dent of global con­sult­ing firm Frost & Sul­li­van China, said staff-less stores will bring the “next spring” to the re­tail in­dus­try.

“Staff-less stores are a com­bi­na­tion of dig­i­tal pay­ments, ra­dio fre­quency iden­ti­fi­ca­tion tech­nol­ogy, bi­o­log­i­cal recog­ni­tion, big data and AI,” Wang said.

“They will lower the risk of shop lift­ing, op­ti­mize the goods and re­duce costs, from run­ning and main­te­nance costs to hu­man la­bor.”

Chen Haibo, CEO of Shen­lan Tech­nol­ogy Co, said that ren­tal and hu­man la­bor costs were hold­ing the tra­di­tional re­tail sec­tor back.

“In 2017, staff-less stores will boom,” Chen added.

Bev­er­age gi­ant Wa­haha Group Co Ltd re­cently signed a nearly 10 bil­lion yuan deal with Shen­lan Tech­nol­ogy (Shang­hai) Co to build 100,000 self-ser­vice Take Go smart stores in three years.

Ja­panese con­ve­nience store chain Law­son Inc is cur­rently run­ning tri­als with an un­manned store in Osaka which is ex­pected to go into com­mer­cial use soon.

Wh­leeys Cafe, a Sil­i­con Val­ley backed startup, has taken its vi­sion of fu­ture re­tail one step fur­ther with Moby Mart —a staff-less self-driv­ing vend­ing car with an AI holo­gram as­sis­tant.

“We will have a mem­ber­ship sys­tem where we can col­lect our users’ data, so we can de­ploy our cars into the ar­eas with the op­ti­mized prod­ucts se­lec­tion,” said Per Cromwell, lead de­signer of Moby Mart.

Cromwell said China had the world’s largest num­ber of mo­bile pay­ment users. It had gone much fur­ther than Eu­rope and made Moby Mart pos­si­ble.

“Cur­rently it costs $200,000 to $300,000 to make one Moby Mart, and we can lower it down to $40,000 when it comes to mass pro­duc­tion,” he said.

“Also, we don’t need to pay rent but some­thing like a park­ing fee,” he added.

As a re­tailer and staff-less so­lu­tions provider, Cromwell said mo­bil­ity would be­come the next turn­ing point. He said they were talk­ing with some of the world’s top re­tail chains, which were in­ter­ested in up­grad­ing from the tra­di­tional re­tail mode, but pre­ferred not to to dis­close names.

One po­ten­tial road block, how­ever: Cromwell said the startup was still wait­ing for the self-driv­ing car to be le­gal­ized be­fore they could achieve their vi­sion of a fu­ture re­tail where the shop comes to the cus­tomers’ door.

They (staff-less stores) will lower the risk of shop lift­ing, op­ti­mize the goods and re­duce costs.” Neil Wang, pres­i­dent of Frost & Sul­li­van China

WANG ZHUANGFEI / CHINA DAILY

Alibaba Group’s cashier-free re­tail store Tao Cafe attracts cus­tomers in Hangzhou, Zhe­jiang prov­ince.

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