In December 2016, we heard of Amazon opening up AI-powered grocery stores sans cashiers or check-out lines. Called Amazon Go, the futuristic grocery store promised to let customers pick up any item and simply walk out. The idea was to deploy a system that uses a combination of computer vision, sensor fusion, and deep learning. Shopping carts would automatically know when an item was picked up or put back, and bills would be charged to a customer’s Amazon account. No hassle and ultimate convenience.
Sadly, Amazon had to put its ambitious store opening plans on hold. Meanwhile, a Chinese startup has already beaten Amazon to the punch and opened a bunch of staff-less convenience stores. Called BingoBox, this shopper-friendly store has its own set of wheels and can be moved around by its owners with ease.
Customers can register with the startup using the messaging app, WeChat, and use the app’s in-built scanner to scan a QR code that identifies the customer and opens the doors to the store. The unattended smart store houses more than 800 products and is open 24/7. After picking out the items of their choice, customers can themselves scan the barcodes for prices at checkout. Payments can be made using mobile wallet apps and BingoBox supports Alipay in China.
Before exiting the store, cameras at the door scan and verify all the items purchased by the customer. The system uses virtual tagging to identify products that have been paid for, and generates alerts if an unbilled item is being taken out of the store. In-store cameras are also equipped with facial recognitions and check for unwanted people entering the BingoBox.
Since there aren’t any humans running the store, a support helpline is available in the form of video chats. Restocking is also not an issue and needs just one employee to spend 20 minutes doing so. A total of 4 employees is all it takes to run 40 such BingoBox stores.
BingoBox just received a funding of $15 million for expansion. The startup is looking at a franchise model for its techie convenience stores. The company uses artificial intelligence and sorting algorithms to recognize and sort products. Even though BingoBox does not have Amazon Go’s smart shelves and checkout-free concept, it already has a bunch of staff-free stores up and running, whereas Amazon’s single, immobile Go store in Seattle is only open to its own employees for now.