Will Unmanned Convenience Stores Go Mainstream Without Humans?

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The retail industry has witnessed significant changes in store formats, moving from traditional convenience stores that were managed by a single person to incorporating security measures such as cameras and barcodes on products. As part of this retail evolution, there is a recently emerging trend of unmanned convenience stores, where there is no need for human personnel to monitor customer purchases and handle store operations.

So, let’s dive in and learn how these human-less stores work.

What is an Unmanned Convenience Store?

An unmanned convenience store, or automated retail store, is a retail concept that eliminates the need for service personnel and cashiers within the store. Instead, transactions are handled through a mobile application. These stores rely on smartphone-based technologies and artificial intelligence to remove traditional features of a store, such as checkout counters and cashiers.

Automated retail stores offer convenience and flexibility to customers, allowing them to buy products at any time without the need for human interaction. These stores are seen as a future trend in the retail industry, providing efficiency and convenience for both customers and operators.

How does an Unmanned Convenience Store Function?

Automated convenience stores function through a combination of advanced technologies and innovative systems. These stores provide customers with a seamless and efficient shopping experience.

The store operates through QR codes or mobile apps, with some using biometric authentication. Inside the store, customers can browse and select products just like in a traditional convenience store. To make a purchase, customers can use a specific mobile app to scan the barcodes or RFID tags of the items they wish to buy and the app automatically calculates the total cost.

It allows users to make secure payments through the app or digital platforms such as wallets or cards. The store is usually equipped with AI and computer vision to monitor inventory levels and detect suspicious behavior. Sensors and cameras track product availability, prevent theft, and ensure safety. These stores usually offer customer support services through the app or remote assistance.

Benefits of an Unmanned Convenience Store

These automated retail stores offer a variety of benefits including:

  • Increased convenience for customers with 24/7 access
  • Reduced costs for store owners by eliminating the need for human staff
  • Streamlined shopping experiences through self-service technology
  • Enhanced inventory management through AI and sensors
  • Reduced checkout time with mobile payments and automated transactions
  • Improved security measures with surveillance systems and AI monitoring
  • Flexibility for customers to shop at their own pace and convenience
  • Potential for expanded store locations due to lower operating costs
  • Integration with mobile apps for personalized offers and promotions
  • Enhanced data collection and analysis for better customer insights

3 Popular Examples of Unmanned Convenience Stores

Below are three popular automated retail stores that are gaining the attention of investors and people across the globe.

1.   Amazon Go

Amazon Go is a well-known example of an automated convenience store. It utilizes advanced technologies such as computer vision, sensor fusion, and deep learning to enable a “just walk out” shopping experience. Customers enter the store by scanning a QR code, pick up the items they want, and leave without needing to go through a traditional checkout process. The store automatically detects the items taken and charges the customer’s Amazon account.

2.   FamilyMart

FamilyMart, a renowned convenience store chain in Japan, has introduced an unmanned store in the Sapita Tower building, allowing customers to shop and pay through an automated system. This move aims to streamline operations and address labor shortage challenges, potentially leading to more unmanned convenience stores in the future.

3.   F5 Future Store

F5 Future Store, located in Guangzhou, China, is a cashier-free convenience store that operates on a slightly different model. Customers place orders and make payments through their smartphones or in-store terminals. Once the payment is confirmed, the products are dispensed through special machines, which work by combining machine automation and artificial algorithms.

Breakthrough Awaiting: 7-Eleven Japan’s Unmanned Mini-Stores

7-Eleven Japan is launching small, staffless, unmanned stores to alleviate the labor shortage in the retail industry. Each store will have a single employee responsible for tasks like product stocking and ordering, offering a limited selection of products and a total of 1,200 items.

Customers accessing these stores will use a dedicated app to scan a QR code upon entry and pay via credit card or other payment methods. The company plans to establish these unmanned outlets in hard-to-reach locations, such as tower condominiums and factories.

Even though it is not operational yet, 20 companies are interested in hosting these stores within their facilities. This shows a promising future for the unmanned stores that are set to become more prevalent in the years to come.

The Future of Retail is Unmanned

The emergence of unmanned convenience stores marks a groundbreaking shift in the retail landscape. These innovative stores not only offer a seamless shopping experience but also redefine the boundaries of convenience. By harnessing advanced technologies such as AI, robotics, and self-checkout systems, they eliminate the need for human intervention, reducing costs and enhancing efficiency. With their 24/7 accessibility and wide range of products, these automated retail stores are poised to revolutionize the way we shop. They are highly tailored to our fast-paced lifestyles and changing consumer expectations.

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