New unmanned and cashless Cheers outlet opens in Our Tampines Hub

The smart outlet is stocked with 295 food and drink products, and does not sell cigarettes or alcohol. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

SINGAPORE - At this new Cheers convenience store in Our Tampines Hub, you can walk in, grab the items you need and walk out without having to whip out your phone, credit card or cash to make payment.

Thanks to an advanced artificial intelligence (AI) system in the outlet that tracks customers' actions, items removed from shelves are recorded automatically and facial recognition technology is used for payment.

Before entering the store for the first time, customers must download the Cheers SG app and add their Visa account as their mode of payment. They can use the facial recognition technology within the app or scan a unique QR code to enter the store.

They will not be able to activate the app or enter the store without adding their mode of payment.

As the AI system in the store and the app are linked, the app will automatically record the items that customers pick up in a virtual shopping cart. As they walk out of the store, the items will be charged to their Visa cards.

Cameras dot the store's ceiling, and the AI element that tracks human behaviour can detect theft.

For instance, if someone opens a can of soda, drinks from it, and returns it to the shelf, the all-watching AI system will block the person from entering the store the next time.

The novel unmanned store was launched by Minister for Social and Family Development Masagos Zulkifli on Saturday (Dec 12).

Only customers with Visa accounts can patronise the 24-hour store over the next two to three months, until other payment methods such as DBS PayLah! and other credit cards are added to the app. The store's AI system was developed in collaboration with Visa.

The smart outlet is stocked with 295 food and drink products, and does not sell cigarettes or alcohol.

The Cheers outlet in Our Tampines Hub is not the convenience store chain's first unmanned and cashless outlet, but it is the first to use the advanced AI system and app.

The chain introduced its first unmanned and cashless store concept at Nanyang Polytechnic in 2017, followed by two more at the National University of Singapore. But those stores required customers to pay using either their credit cards or smartphones.

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Cheers is a subsidiary of NTUC FairPrice.

Mr Masagos, who is also an MP for the Tampines West ward of Tampines GRC, highlighted that moving towards AI-powered, unmanned stores is the way to go as it is aligned with the country's Smart Nation initiative, while managing manpower constraints in the retail sector.

"The store's technology allows NTUC FairPrice to expand their Cheers outlets to many places very quickly, without the constraints of manpower, especially at night, when it is very hard to find workers who are able to do shift duty," he added.

(From right) Minister for Social and Family Development Masagos Zulkifli, FairPrice group chief procurement officer Tng Ah Yiam and FairPrice group CEO Seah Kian Peng touring the new Cheers convenience store. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

To ease customers into the high-tech store, a staff member will be around to guide customers over the next three months, before it becomes fully unmanned. Due to safe distancing measures, only six persons, including the staff member, can be in the store at any one time.

The app can register more than one person. This means that children and the elderly who do not have a smartphone or credit card can still enter the store and buy items, as long as their family member's app has their facial biometrics recorded. The items will be charged to their family member's credit card, which is registered to the app.

The store is piloting the new AI system, and if the technology and app prove successful, the system may be rolled out to other Cheers outlets in the future, said Mr Seah Kian Peng, group chief executive of FairPrice Group.

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