Con­nect­ing read­ers & tech

China’s first-ever un­staffed book­store com­bines phys­i­cal brows­ing ex­pe­ri­ence with high-tech check­out ser­vice

Global Times – Metro Shanghai - - FRONT PAGE - By Qi Xi­jia

On the green Guo­quan Road lead­ing to Fu­dan Univer­sity stands a tiny book­store. Over the past 14 years it has said good­bye to sev­eral gen­er­a­tions of grad­u­ates – along with Shang­hai’s once-pros­per­ous phys­i­cal book­store mar­ket fol­low­ing the re­cent wave of dig­i­tal read­ing de­vices and on­line e-com­merce plat­forms.

Hav­ing ex­plored both on­line and off­line busi­ness mod­els, Zhida Book­store re­cently de­cided to com­bine the two by launch­ing China’s first-ever un­manned book­store.

If the un­usual ven­ture works, more sim­i­lar book­stores could be launched around Shang­hai, pro­vid­ing res­i­dents and stu­dents with a brand-new on­li­ne­of­fline read­ing ex­pe­ri­ence that could dis­rupt both the tra­di­tional re­tail model and the newer on­line plat­form that cur­rently dom­i­nates the mar­ket.

A high­light of this new un­manned book­store is that it al­lows cus­tomers to process their pay­ments us­ing a mo­bile pay­ment sys­tem based on fa­cial recog­ni­tion tech­nolo­gies of­fered by Tmall.

Stand at the en­trance’s sen­sory zone, take out your phone, scan the QR code with your Ali­pay app and the gates will au­to­mat­i­cally open for you. Once in­side, shop­pers can browse the em­ployee-free store.

Af­ter se­lect­ing your pur­chase, walk di­rectly to the exit where the pay­ment sys­tem will au­to­mat­i­cally scan your face, rec­og­nize the price tag of the book and deduct the cost from your Ali­pay – all in a mat­ter of sec­onds.

Cater­ing to dif­fer­ent tastes

The store is cur­rently staffed by hu­mans in or­der to guide those who are not yet fa­mil­iar with the high-tech process.

“I think it is quite con­ve­nient and fresh to pay through the fa­cial recog­ni­tion sys­tem,” Eve­lyn, a fresh­man at Fu­dan Univer­sity, told the Global times on the store’s open­ing day.

“I would pre­fer this type of un­manned book­store over tra­di­tional book­stores, be­cause it al­lows more per­sonal space to im­merse my­self in the books and find peace,” she added.

The 94-square-meter book­store is di­vided into two spa­ces, one for pop­u­lar lit­er­a­ture and one for the deeper read­ing re­quired by schol­ars and stu­dents. The two ar­eas are di­vided, cater­ing to the tastes of each type of reader.

Thus far the store boasts over 6,000 works, and each book is in­stalled with an RFID code. A cam­era at the exit can “sense” the cost of the book and au­to­mat­i­cally deduct the pay­ment with­out the shop­per hav­ing to man­u­ally scan the book.

Luo Hong, man­ager of Zhida Book­store, told the Global Times that she aims to bet­ter con­nect read­ers through tech­nol­ogy. “We should not refuse tech­nol­ogy but uti­lize it to in­te­grate the ad­van­tages of an on­line and off­line book­store,” said Luo.

Best of both worlds

In the fu­ture, the book­store and Tmall will to­gether ex­plore com­bin­ing on­line rat­ing sys­tems with the off­line brows­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.

For ex­am­ple, when a cus­tomer browses a book on the shelf, the book’s on­line user rat­ing and re­views will au­to­mat­i­cally be dis­played on a dig­i­tal screen. This es­sen­tially com­bines the best of both worlds, with cus­tomers be­ing able to phys­i­cally hold the book they in­tend to buy but also hav­ing ac­cess to on­line in­for­ma­tion about the book.

World Book Day, which fell on April 23 this year, saw the open­ing of a new batch of book­stores around the city, each with dis­tinc­tive char­ac­ter­is­tics.

Si­nan Books, for ex­am­ple, fo­cuses on for­eign-lan­guage books; Writ­ers Book­store cen­ters on lit­er­a­ture au­to­graphed by the au­thors; Zhida Book­store of­fers a ten­ta­tive ex­am­ple for phys­i­cal book­stores by in­fus­ing tech­nol­ogy into off­line re­tail.

“The sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment of China’s book in­dus­try can­not be achieved with­out con­tin­u­ous in­no­va­tion. We are glad to see th­ese lo­cal book­stores in­no­vat­ing and up­grad­ing based on the de­mand of cus­tomers,” said Xu Jiong, di­rec­tor of Shang­hai Mu­nic­i­pal Press and Pub­li­ca­tion Bureau on the World Book Day.

“With new ideas, new tech­nol­ogy and new busi­ness mod­els, they will pro­mote an up­grad­ing of China’s phys­i­cal book­store in­dus­try,” Xu said.

Pho­tos: Yang Hui/GT

In­set: A woman checks A woman passes by Zhida Book­store. out a book at the un­staffed book­store.

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