Self-service stores need the human touch

Wang Yanlin
A forum at the China Vending & Smart Retailing Show on Thursday discussed the future of retail.
Wang Yanlin

With self-service stores on the rise, those with both human assistants and machines will likely be the future, rather than complete automation. Such was the conclusion of a forum at the China Vending & Smart Retailing Show on Thursday at the Shanghai New International Expo Center.

“Unattended shops and vending machines are mushrooming across China thanks to technological advances,” said Jerry Huang, a partner with global consultancy firm Kantar.

“However, shops combining  human and mechanical forces will be the favored model as consumers still need help when shopping, and shops need human beings to see what really matters to consumers,” Huang said.

The market value of unmanned retail, including unattended shops and vending machines, reached 20 billion yuan (US$3 billion) in 2018, and will continue to grow fast this year, Huang said.

Convenience store chain Lawson has put vending machines into its outlets, a trend that may be the future of retailing.

“Even if you favor assistant-free shops, you need people to decide what to put in the shops,” said Zhou Qi, CEO of Vingoo, a self-service juice machine provider. “When you know what products are the best sellers, you need people to put them in the best place.”

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