Shanghai fruit retailer Taoyuanming tests automated stores

Swedish-Chinese firm MobyMart is expanding its automated store format in China in collaboration with Shanghai fruit retailer Taoyuanming.

Two stores are operating, one in Hefei and one outside Shanghai. While expansion in the region is the firm’s priority this year, its long-term sights are set on Europe and North America.

According to brand co-founder Per Cromwell, MobyMart initially opened a corner-store-format mobile vending platform for coffee, which evolved into MobyMart, a mobile platform for “vending everything”.

“We found a very visionary fruit retailer in the suburbs of Shanghai, Taoyuanming, and basically they had physical stores but they wanted to have unmanned stores,” said Cromwell.

“We saw that we didn’t actually need to make too many adjustments to our existing system because basically what we had to do was pre-pack all the fruit — we needed to have fixed units and not have people buying by weight … and when we opened it up to the public it was an instant success.”

The store carries around 50 SKUs at a time.

Taoyuanming is reportedly so pleased with the results that two more automated stores are scheduled to open early this year, which may be followed by staffless stores if successful.

The firm’s strategy is to provide a platform to small retailers.

“If you are for instance a fruit store outside Shanghai and you want to expand from a few stores to 10 stores in your neighbourhood, then you can’t really start buying BingoBoxes because it’s quite complicated and expensive technology,” says Cromwell.

The MobyMart model relies on customers scanning their product, while cameras and sensors serve as a back-up. This  “very simple technology” allows for opening “a lot of stores at a very low cost,” Cromwell says.

“It won’t be 100-per-cent staffless because you still need someone circulating the store and making sure everything’s fine and restocked, but one person in one day can operate eight to 10 stores depending on how spread out they are. So you have much more efficiency with the staff you do have.”

He added that AI and big data will help store operators know what products will be needed at what locations and at what time.

“If we have a request of some sort, that is something that will also solve the last mile problem,” he said.
The whole store and system is expected to retail for around US$15,000. MobyMart also has a prototype mobile store with automated driverless vehicle capacity – although its rollout is restricted by legislation around the technology.

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