The automated store of the future is heading closer to our doorsteps.
Self-checkout and online delivery services might soon be outmoded. Automated, cashier-less and mobile, doorstep-accessible shopping outlets are popping up globally—these offer not only a quick and seamless shopping experience, but also allow customers to handpick the items they are seeking.
Retail giant Amazon launched its Amazon Go store in Seattle in late January 2018. Amazon Go stocks everyday items, Whole Foods Market goods and Amazon-branded meal kits, but has no cashiers, no check-out lines and no barcode scanners. Shoppers enter by scanning an app, shop and leave—items purchased are automatically charged to their accounts. Dilip Kumar, vice president of technology for Amazon Go, suggests the concept is Amazon’s answer to solving “time poverty,” which he calls people’s “number one problem.”
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This is just the tip of the iceberg. While Amazon Go currently only operates in Seattle, two other mobile concepts are hoping to reach a wider audience by physically bringing roving stores directly to the consumer. Robomart, based in the Bay Area, is a prototype tap-to-request grab-and-go food mart. Conventional grocery delivery services like those run by Amazon, FreshDirect or Instacart don’t let customers select products for themselves. If you’re particular about the ripeness of an avocado or conscious about bruises on tomatoes, being able to choose your own produce is essential. An autonomy-focused platform like Robomart puts consumers in the metaphorical driver’s seat, while still maintaining a high level of ease.
The platform would be available through a leasing program and would provide a cheaper alternative to opening new brick-and-mortar stores—and, as its electric vehicles are self-driving, there are no added staffing costs. Like Amazon Go, Robomart will track customers’ purchases using checkout-free technology and charge them accordingly. The company has applied for an Autonomous Vehicle Testing Permit from the California Department of Motor Vehicles and hopes to launch a pilot program in summer 2018. Robomart has already partnered with electric vehicle charging stations in the Bay Area.
The desire for automated retail isn’t limited to affluent urban areas. Beyond being ultimately convenient, Moby Mart is designed to meet the needs of people living in rural areas or in food deserts (neighborhoods with limited access to outlets selling wholesome, affordable food). The prototype is a 24-hour convenience store which has no staff or cash registers, and uses self-driving technology for both delivery and restocking. Moby, which has roots in Sweden and China, is already on the way to being greenlit in the rural municipality of Vellinge in southern Sweden.
Autonomous vehicles are a major piece of the puzzle and Toyota is leading the pack. The e-Palette concept car the company introduced at CES 2018 is centred around the mobile shopping experience. The vehicles have completely customizable interiors and could be rented by the hour for any purpose. Toyota has already entered into partnerships with brands such as Pizza Hut, Uber, Mazda, Amazon and Didi. The concept is at the forefront of tech solutions for potentially making daily life easier, according to Toyota’s chairman Akio Toyoda. “We are developing mobility solutions to help everyone enjoy their lives, and we are doing our part to create an ever better society for the next 100 years and beyond,” he says.
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