Chances are you’ve heard about Amazon Go, Jeff Bezos’ smart reinvention of the grocery store, in which shoppers simply grab whatever they want off the shelves, confirm that they’re making a purchase, and then walk straight out without having to wait in line.
As it turns out, Amazon isn’t the only company trying out the concept. Wheelys is a startup that started out as a tricked-out bike café concept. It has been expanding, and recently opened the doors of a new unmanned retail store — with the exception of the occasional person to restock the shelves — in Shanghai, beating Amazon to the punch.
“We have offices in Stockholm, Sweden, and Shanghai,” CEO and co-founder Maria De La Croix told Digital Trends. “Since we already tested the system in Sweden — one year before Amazon Go — Shanghai was a natural choice for us.
Called Wheelys 24/7, the new store concept relies on a mobile app customers can access to scan and then buy their items. The retail space is roughly 500 square feet in size, which makes it conveniently compact — although, we suppose, comparatively palatial next to a coffee shop on a bike.
It sells ready-to-eat fresh breakfast, lunch and dinner options, as well as snacks and Wheelys Meal Kits, which offer the necessary ingredients to quickly whip up a meal for yourself and a friend in just half an hour. There are also an assortment of groceries, ranging from your everyday basics to more artisanal luxuries like fine cheeses or chocolates.
Its approach to security is built on a pretty neat concept. You have to log in to the app in order to access the store; once inside, you’re scrutinized with security cameras. In other words, you could steal a pack of cigarettes and bolt for the door, but you may as well mug someone by swapping their wallet for your driver’s license and home address.
From here, the plan is for Wheelys to license out the technology so that other folks can get involved.
“With this system, any store can be turned into a staffless store, open 24/7,” De La Croix said. “The system offers a totally integrated point of sale, app, database with products, and payment system. Our vision is to provide this platform to empower entrepreneurs; to give Davids the tools to win against Goliaths, aka large corporations, like our vision with our Wheelys bicycle cafés.”
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