Chinese retail giant Suning Commerce Group is diving deeper into unmanned automated stores following a test launch in Nanjing during the summer. The company has just a second store in Shanghai and will open three more in Beijing, Chongqing and Xuzhou soon.
The Nanjing store, Suning Sports Biu, was the culmination of the diversified retailer’s Smart Retail project that had already seen over 1,500 physical stores being upgraded to big data-driven ‘smart’ stores in recent years.
Looking remarkably like a ‘normal’ store, it took the technology approach further and appears to have been a success with the unmanned store model now ready to “scale up”. Company chairman Zhang Jindong said: “These stores are reproducible, cost-wise and technology-wise. As today’s tech-savvy consumers expect different shopping experience, we see more opportunities in the industry.”
With “richer” product categories, the new stores will not only sell sports products and souvenir items from well-known football clubs as in the original location, but will offer a wider selection such as gadgets, personal electronics, food and FMCG goods.
So how do they work? They include facial recognition tech. After linking a bank card and going through the facial recognition process on the Suning Finance app, customers will be able to enter the store simply by letting the camera scan their faces at the entrance.
To check out, shoppers carry their goods along the ‘payment pathway’. The system will automatically recognise the shoppers and their items with the facial recognition and RFID technology – with a claimed check-out completion process of less than 15 seconds.
The surveillance cameras and an algorithm system developed by Suning is also used to calculate and analyse customer flow in the stores “to help optimise the product placement and enhance the shop operation.”
One interesting point in terms of the availability of items, is that the unmanned stores will also feature augmented reality (AR) technology to display creative items, “optimising the space usage”, the company said. It didn’t give many details of this, but as a way to allow consumers to perhaps shop online while in a physical store it could be a key step forward. Multiple surveys over the past year have shown that consumers are very open to AR tech being used to enhance their shopping experiences so this will certainly be one to watch.