The End of an Era
For a period of time, the unmanned store was deemed to be the “next big thing” in technology. Chinese e-commerce giants such as Alibaba, Suning, and JD.com as well as Amazon in the United States have set up retail stores that are fully automated in major cities, equipped with various technologies such as electronic shelf label, Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID), computer vision, and facial recognition. According to ABI Research’s Smart Retail Market Data (MD-RET-102), published in October 2018, the total number of unmanned stores was forecasted to grow from 393 in 2019 to 44,138 in 2023 globally.
Since then, market momentum has stalled. Recent news reports have announced that the recent boom of unmanned stores has ended, and that deployment has slowed down, as the stores struggled to move fresh groceries. In the past three years, Alibaba is reported to have set up more than 200 unmanned stores in China, but many have since gone out of business. Investments in full-scale automated retail stores are very expensive. Online retailers such as Amazon, Alibaba, and JD.com are willin…
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