With labor shortages and rising overhead costs, is the future of retail really in robotics?
Asians may not be feeling it yet, but trends start innocently enough, and often go unnoticed until it has spread powerfully throughout different regions in Asia. Perhaps the same can be said of robots in stores, or more specifically, unmanned retail outlets that emphasize self-service and interaction with computers, rather than fellow humans.
If you think about it, going to a store with no one else but fellow customers seems like a sad, gray event, because buying things used to mean that you have another warm body tending to your needs, even for a few minutes, as you make purchases.
However, just two years ago, a rising number of Singaporean retail operators scrambled to automate parts of their operations to reduce overall labor requirements in their stores and to speed things along. Self check-out is just one of the conveniences – we’re talking about vending machines that serve hot meals like pizza.
In 2018, businessman Zilin Chen launched the fully automated and unmanned retail store BingoBox in China. The store uses AliPay and WeChat Pay to accommodate customers, and fully utilizes QR codes and other means of keeping track of inventory and more importantly, keeping track of customers in the store.
According to the CEO of BingoBox, their current system allows just seven people to main 45 BingoBoxes throughout China. When asked about the similarities of Amazon Go and BingoBox, Chen was quick to counter, as he said that BingoBox was working on solving other kinds of problems.
The biggest difference he said, was that Amazon Go may be cashier-less, but they still had people working on merchandising to support the cashier-less retail environment.
Amazon Go launched a few years ago and promises US consumers “the most convenient way to shop.” Go stores are currently still being planned throughout the US, the latest of which will be set up in Atlanta. In contrast, there are now 300 BingoBoxes throughout China, spread out in thirty cities.