Welcome to roboshop - Singapore's first cashless, automated supermarket

ST VIDEO: CHARMAINE NG
The cashless store, the first of its kind in Singapore, is a rare move by a tech start-up into the brick-and-mortar retail space.
The cashless store, the first of its kind in Singapore, is a rare move by a tech start-up into the brick-and-mortar retail space. ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG
The cashless store, the first of its kind in Singapore, is a rare move by homegrown tech start-up honestbee into the brick-and-mortar retail space.
The cashless store, the first of its kind in Singapore, is a rare move by homegrown tech start-up honestbee into the brick-and-mortar retail space. ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

SINGAPORE - A new supermarket in Pasir Panjang does not accept cash. And even if it did there are no cashiers to accept it.

Welcome to the new habitat supermarket - a 60,000 sq ft retail space with a fully automated check-out system where customers pay using a smartphone app and robots pack their groceries into bags.

The cashless store, the first of its kind in Singapore, is a rare move by a tech start-up into the bricks-and-mortar retail space.

Created by home-grown company honestbee, it stocks 20,000 products including fresh produce, seafood and meat.

It is due to open on Thursday (Oct 18), at a time when the online grocery and food delivery market is becoming increasingly competitive here, with players such as RedMart and Amazon Prime as well as foodpanda, Deliveroo and GrabFood.

Honestbee, which was founded in 2015, started out as  a grocery delivery service, but later introduced laundry and food delivery services.

The decision to move into the physical retail market was because "online retail is less than 10 per cent of global retail sales", said habitat by honestbee vice-president and managing director Pauline Png.

"We figured since we have the logistics capabilities and other expertise, we wanted to provide a new experience to our customers."

The physical store also allows honestbee and its partner merchants to experiment with new retail strategies and technologies, including the robotic checkout and collection point. It also serves as a fulfilment centre for honestbee's online sales.

The company is also exploring using data collected through the honestbee app to customise the shopping experience for each customer, such as through recommendations.

To check out at the store, customers place their grocery cart into an automated system, where it is sent behind the scenes for the items to be picked up, scanned and packed into a recyclable bag. The process takes about five minutes.

When customers are ready to leave, they scan their unique QR code on the honestbee app at a collection point. This will prompt the robots to deliver the bag of purchases to the customer.

According to honestbee, this robotic check-out and collection system can handle 300 customer orders per hour.

Alternatively, customers buying 10 grocery items or fewer can use their smartphone to scan each item and pay using the honestbee app.

"By automating the checkout process, it frees them up from things like queueing... and they have an extra five or 10 minutes to maybe eat or get a coffee," said Ms Png.

Habitat by honestbee also features 15 food stalls, where customers can have a meal while waiting for their groceries to be packed. These include Tokyo pancake cafe Riz Labo Kitchen, known for its Japanese souffle pancakes, and local bakery Lazy Loaf, which sells homemade breads and spreads.

Retail expert Amos Tan, a senior lecturer at the Singapore Polytechnic's School of Business, said honestbee's move into the bricks-and-mortar retail space is understandable, as most consumers here still prefer to shop at grocery stores as a form of retail therapy.

"It's a whole new experience altogether when people's senses are engaged, where they get to touch, see, and sometimes even taste things," he said.

"So I guess honestbee understands this, as their online market share is quite saturated and they want a bigger piece of the pie."