While we in the west have been enthralled by Amazon’s move into bricks & mortar bookstores and its experimental Amazon Go no-checkouts grocery store, China’s Beijing Publishing Group takes things to a whole new level.
The first of 20 planned BPG stores opened inside China’s Beijing International Book City in Tongzhou district, and at just 30 square metres the store has bewildered some outside observers, but actually this is the start of something far more exciting.
The size and location are significant, and a clear indication that this is simply a trial model, not intended itself to compete with the bigger store.
Completely unmanned (unlike the Amazon Go model) the store is designed to show the potential of the model, and the robot is there more as an attraction for the children than as an essential component.
Being talked of as an AI retail box rather than a store, the Xinhua store follows in the footsteps of April Gourmet’s unmanned convenience stores, only with books.
Like other unmanned stores, the “Xinhua Lifestyle Store” requires all customers to register their real names using their WeChat accounts and have their faces scanned before entering.
It then tracks the customer trajectory through the store, knowing at any given time what books are close by, and combines this with past purchase history to offer “precise and humanised” book suggestions to all of its customers.
Imagine Amazon’s ”you might like” recommendations algorithm on the website operational in the Amazon bricks & mortar stores.
Whereas in the Amazon bookstores you have to pay at the checkout, the Xinhua store does what Amazon offers in the Amazon GO store, with no checkout staff to deal with.
(Xinhua) incorporates innovative technologies such as self-service settlement systems, smart product identification, remote customer service assistance, motion recognition and theft protection systems, and face recognition. Payment is through WeChat or Alipay via a smartphone.
But for those who prefer some sort of manual interaction there is the friendly robot on hand if you prefer, and for the children at least this is proving an attraction in its own right.
Books are, for these small stores at least, based on the bestseller list, again rather like the Amazon stores.