Potential for wider retail sector to adopt unmanned store concept

Pick & Go director Alex Ng explaining how his unmanned booth works to Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing at the Singapore Retail Industry Conference and Exhibition 2019. ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN

SINGAPORE - With convenience stores leading the way in adopting unmanned shops, planners see scope for a similar format to be adopted by the wider retail sector.

At the Singapore Retail Industry Conference and Exhibition on Friday (Aug 16), three home-grown retailers showcased new concepts that use technology, such as radio-frequency identification (RFID), cashless payments and artificial intelligence (AI), to allow shoppers to enter stores and buy items without having to interact with a salesperson.

The companies - Pick & Go, Octobox and OMO Store - developed their innovative ideas with support from government agency Enterprise Singapore.

Mr Alan Yeo, director at Enterprise Singapore's retail and design division, said unmanned stores deliver a fresh and interesting experience for customers while boosting productivity by reducing the manpower traditionally needed to run the stores.

He said: "While convenience store operators are leading the adoption of the unmanned store format, we see potential for such retail formats to be successfully adopted by retailers."

Mr Yeo said Enterprise Singapore will continue supporting retailers to adopt such new retail formats.

At Octobox's unmanned store, for example, customers scan their palms to get inside. When they have chosen their items, they go into a check-out room which automatically detects the RFID tags on their purchases. To pay, customers scan their palms again so that they can use their DBS PayLah wallet, keying in the last four digits of their mobile number for authentication.

In a press release, Octobox managing director Jeffrey Sun said: "Unmanned stores are the future of retail, and Octobox is excited to be growing this new concept and delivering interesting retail experiences to consumers in Singapore."

The company opened its first store at the National University of Singapore's (NUS) University Town earlier this month, and plans to open a second store at Jurong Island in partnership with JTC by this year.

The other two retailers are also testing their concepts at tertiary institutions.

OMO Store will open its first store at NUS' School of Computing next month, while a store by Pick & Go will open at the Singapore University of Technology and Design in October.

Analysts say that in order for more retailers to have confidence in setting up their own unmanned stores, successful pioneers will need to lead the way.

Mr Amos Tan, senior lecturer at Singapore Polytechnic's School of Business, said: "There will definitely be interest in these new unmanned convenience stores. Other businesses will be watching and if these new stores are successful, then others will be more ready to adopt these technologies."

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