Cashier-free stores are ‘next big thing’, say VC firms

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - BUSINESS -

CHONGQING — Pay­ing for your gro­ceries by scan­ning a QR code on your smart­phone is a per­fectly nor­mal thing to do in China to­day. As cold hard cash ap­pears set to van­ish into the mists of time, it seems that the cashiers are about to evap­o­rate too.

Over the week­end, Yiqi Shan, a cashier-free store in South­west China’s Chongqing me­trop­o­lis, regis­tered its 1,800th sale, two weeks af­ter open­ing.

The 24-hour con­ve­nience store is on the first floor of an of­fice build­ing in an in­dus­trial park. It of­fers var­i­ous bev­er­ages, fast food and snacks in a space of just 12 square me­ters.

First-time cus­tomers sign up by scan­ning a QR code at the en­trance, choos­ing a pass­word, reg­is­ter­ing their phone num­ber and sub­mit­ting a selfie. They are then ad­mit­ted through a ticket gate sim­i­lar to those at sub­way sta­tions.

Scan­ning bar codes is hardly a highly skilled job and cus­tomers — hon­est cus­tomers — can do it just as well as any cashier. When the sub­se­quent mo­bile pay­ment is com­plete, an­other QR code is gen­er­ated which al­lows the cus­tomer through the ticket gate and out of the store.

Deng Jie, deputy di­rec­tor of the com­pany that owns the store, de­scribed three mea­sures that have been taken to pre­vent shoplift­ing. First, the cus­tomer’s selfie is com­pared with the Pub­lic Se­cu­rity Bureau’s na­tional ID data­base.

Sec­ond, ev­ery cor­ner of the store comes un­der the steely gaze of sur­veil­lance de­vices that never sleep.

Third, if a cus­tomer some­how man­ages to es­cape from the store with­out pay­ing, he or she re­ceives a friendly re­minder by text mes­sage re­quest­ing pay­ment. If the warn­ing is ig­nored, the cus­tomer is banned from the store and a black mark added to his or her per­sonal credit record.

“The cashier-free store is the re­sult of the com­ing to­gether of new tech­nol­ogy and con­sumer de­mand,” Deng said. Her tech­ni­cal team worked on the app for over three years with 300,000 yuan ($44,000) poured into the project.

Ven­ture cap­i­tal­ists be­lieve such stores could be “the next big thing”, and Deng’s com­pany plans to open 25 more this year in var­i­ous parts of the coun­try, with 200 fran­chised stores in Chongqing.

Ear­lier this month, Alibaba opened its first brick-and­mor­tar store “Tao Cafe” in the com­pany’s home­town, Hangzhou, cap­i­tal of East China’s Zhe­jiang prov­ince. A long queue of cu­ri­ous cus­tomers soon formed.

In Shang­hai, Bin­goBox Min­i­mar­kets, 15-square-me­ter boxes, have been in­stalled in many res­i­den­tial com­mu­ni­ties.

Cus­tomers open the door by scan­ning a QR code, se­lect fresh fruit and daily ne­ces­si­ties and check out by e-pay­ment. There will be 5,000 Bin­goBoxes in place by the end of Au­gust, ac­cord­ing to the com­pany web­site.

The fo­cus of the re­tail in­dus­try is shift­ing from price to cus­tomer ex­pe­ri­ence.

Zhang Yong, CEO of Alibaba, said: “The flow of pro­duc­tion, re­la­tion­ships be­tween sell­ers and cus­tomers, and the shop­ping ex­pe­ri­ence will be rev­o­lu­tion­ized to the ex­tent that ev­ery cus­tomer is iden­ti­fied, un­der­stood and served.”


Peo­ple try out Bin­goBox Min­i­mar­kets in Yangpu dis­trict, Shang­hai.

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