Chinese online retailer JD.com has beaten Amazon to the next stage of the shopping revolution by announcing plans to open hundreds of "unmanned" convenience stores.
The shops have already been trialled with JD's 10,000 employees at headquarters in Beijing and use facial and recognition technology to register payment and product identity, meaning that customers do not have to wait in a checkout line.
JD explained that cameras on the ceilings of the stores can recognize customers’ movement and generate heat maps of their activity to monitor customer traffic flow, product selection and customer preferences, which helps store owners to stock efficiently. In addition, facial recognition will enable the shop to show customised adverts and promotion based on a customers' shopping habits and demographics. The technology developed by JD.com will all be eventually able to be licensed to other third-party retailers, the company said.
"These two smart-store solutions will completely change what it means to go to take a trip to the store", said Song Ma, vice president of JD.com. "From helping small stores' owners streamline their supply chains and increase stocking efficiency, to speeding up check out, this is a massive jump beyond anything in use today.”
The company also announced plans to use driverless vehicles to deliver goods to customers' homes. The vehicles have pre-programmed routes and secure lockers. JD.com, which is the second biggest online retailer in China after Alibaba, said that it had struck a deal with real estate developer, China Overseas Land & Investment to open hundreds of the unmanned shops.
The move puts it ahead of Amazon which prompted headlines around the world and caused further panic for traditional retailers when it announced trials for its 'Amazon Go' store. The shop doesn't have tills or barcode scanners and allows customers to scan their smartphone on entry and then walk out of a shop with their goods being charged directly to their Prime accounts.
In May Amazon registered the trademark “No Queue. No Checkout. (No, Seriously.)” in the UK amid rumours it is planning to open stores in Britain. However, sources have said that a roll-out of the Amazon Go shops had been delayed by teething problems at its Seattle trial shop. Analysts have estimated that Amazon's technology might eventually wipe out three quarters of US grocery store jobs.
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