Innovative Swedish company Wheelys is opening up the world's first app-controlled, staff-free convenience store in Shanghai. Accessible 24 hours a day, seven days a week, the prototype store is designed to make it cheaper and easier for small businesses to get into the retail game.
Wheelys started out in 2014 designing modular bike-cafes with a view of selling the bikes cheaply to those who couldn't afford the cost of opening a bricks and mortar cafe. The conceit was extraordinarily successful, and by late 2016 the company had rolled out over 550 bikes across 60 countries.
Now the company is attempting to do a similar thing with its Wheely247 concept. After a successful regional test store set up in a small Swedish town last year, this Shanghai store is Wheelys proof-of-concept for a busier, urban environment.
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The customer installs an app on their phone, which allows them to access the store. When inside they simply scan the barcode of the goods they want and upon leaving the store their credit card will be charged for their purchases.
A security camera monitors the staff-less store with a view on preventing theft. Presumably, as customers are logged through the app on entering the store, they can be identified if they are witnessed taking objects without scanning.
Much like Wheelys' strategy selling its bike-cafes, the company's ultimate goal is to license the technology so any retailer can integrate it into their pre-existing stores. In the company's words, "What Uber did for taxis, we do for retail."
The system is somewhat similar to the recently announced checkout-free stores that Amazon is planning on launching. Wheelys' technology is not as comprehensively advanced as Amazon's, which doesn't even require individual product scanning, but the ability for the system to be bought and implemented by small retailers certainly gives it an upper hand.
The Wheelys Shanghai store is currently in its beta-testing phase and customers wanting to access it must apply through the company's website. Its prototype store certainly has a dystopian, Repo Man-like vibe, with its Wheelys' branded goods and a look reminiscent of a giant walk-in vending machine, but it's not hard to envision a future full of retail shops like this. Surly convenience store clerks may be a thing of the past sooner than we think.
Take a tour through the Wheelys unmanned convenience store in the video below.