Betting on cashier-less retail

Updated 2017-07-20 11:40:23 Global Times
A BingoBox cashier-less store located in Jing'an district of Shanghai. (Photos: Yu Xi/GT)

A BingoBox cashier-less store located in Jing'an district of Shanghai. (Photos: Yu Xi/GT)

As self-service convenience shops set to boom, experts warn retailers about profitability challenges

As a result of the advancement in artificial intelligence technology, many companies are pursuing business ventures in cashier-less stores, which feature self-service checkout systems. Despite one optimistic store operator expressing confidence in the emerging business model, experts question its ability to drive profit.

More and more Chinese consumers are beginning to embrace a brand new retail experience.

As a consequence of the advancement in artificial intelligence (AI) technology, consumers are now able to serve themselves without interacting with a cashier. For example, it is now possible to order a cup of espresso by simply paying via facial recognition technology at cashier-less stores.

Technology upgrade inherently causes retail upgrade, which explains why there has been an increasing number of cashier-less stores being deployed in Chinese cities recently.

On Tuesday, the Global Times asked a local Shanghai resident, surnamed Wu, to share his first-time experience in a cashier-less store, he said that it was "very convenient."

Its easy-to-use method of payment is a reflection of this opinion. Customers simply position their items on the barcode scanner zone, wait for the laser beam to identify their purchase, and then pay using a QR code created by popular domestic payment tools WeChat and Alipay.

On Tuesday in Shanghai, the Global Times witnessed approximately six customers enter the small-scale BingoBox facility - roughly 15 square meters - within half an hour, with most of them noting that the purchasing process was quite smooth.

The BingoBox facility is located near the headquarters of feiniu.com, the e-commerce platform of RT-Mart, in Shanghai.

Taking a gamble

An increasing number of Internet companies in China and abroad are betting on cashier-less convenience stores.

BingoBox, a technology company headquartered in Zhongshan, South China's Guangdong Province, is one of the latest. In fact, the company was the innovator of the transparent, cube-shaped self-service convenience store that is starting to pop up across Chinese cities.

As of July 5, BingoBox had established eight stores of this kind across Zhongshan and Shanghai. Starting in August 2016, the venture involved a strong strategy that focused on high-end communities within these cities.

Granted about 100 million yuan (.8 million) in its first round of fundraising, BingoBox now plans to deploy 200 cashier-less shops across China by the end of August and to expand into 5,000 shops within the next year, a BingoBox PR representative, who prefers to remain unnamed, told the Global Times on Tuesday.

In March, Wheelys Café, a start-up backed by Silicon Valley, introduced its 24-hour cashier-less convenience store to Shanghai after launching its first one in Sweden, according to media reports.

Japan's major convenience store chain Lawson is currently in the middle of piloting cashier-less stores in Osaka. The company is aiming to launch it into service soon, China Global Television Network (CGTN), an international media unit of China Central Television, reported on July 11.

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