Alibaba Group has opened its first cashier-free retail store in China.
The Chinese e-commerce and tech giant has opened its first Tao Café, an experimental cashless cafe, empowered by artificial intelligence and data technologies through the use of the Alipay e-payment service.
Located in Hangzhou, capital of east China’s Zhejiang Province, the 200-square-metre store offers beverages, fast food and snacks and can accommodate 50 customers at a time.
“The Tao Cafe, an experimental cashier-less and cashless coffee shop, is another feature for Alibaba to outline its technology capability bridging the world of offline and online shopping,” Chris Tung, chief marketing officer of Alibaba Group, told reporters.
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At the café, customers use their Taobao app to scan a QR code in front of the shop where a camera set with face recognition detects their identity.
The data links to their Taobao accounts so they can buy a cup of coffee using voice-recognition technology. From here, the beverage will be brought to their table and users can shop online using their smartphone to access Taobao while they wait.
Alibaba joins other retail chains and tech start-ups flooding the market with their own offering of staff-less retail. This includes mega rival Amazon and its Amazon Go store, which debuted last year via tracking cameras, utilising a facial and voice recognition system.
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And it’s a trend that looks set continue in retail, according to experts.
Neil Wang, president of global consulting firm Frost & Sullivan China, told local media that staff-less stores will bring the “next spring” to the retail industry.
“Staff-less stores are a combination of digital payments, radio frequency identification technology, biological recognition, big data and AI,” Wang told China Daily.
“They will lower the risk of shop lifting, optimize the goods and reduce costs, from running and maintenance costs to human labour.”
China’s banking institutions handled more than 25.7 billion mobile payments last year with a transaction volume of 157.55 trillion yuan (23 trillion U.S. dollars), according to a report by the People’s Bank of China, the central bank.