Moby Mart – The “store of the future” or just a fun idea?

During a discussion at Tech by Retail Week in summer of 2018, the co-founders of the unmanned moving store Moby Mart talked about how they believe the “store of the future” will be solar powered, have no staff and will move at customer’s convenience.

The store, which is on wheels and moves from place to place, can be opened with a customer’s phone, who can then enter the shop, take what they want, leave and pay for the goods digitally later.

In villages that have convenience stores, Hannah Lina Mazetti, founder of Moby Mart, claimed they’re not just places to shop, but places to meet.

Her and her co-founder also said in parts of the world where it is becoming too expensive to staff stores, these corner shops are closing down.

“We’re creating something more than just a store, we creating a place for people to meet, have a cup of coffee, talk about their kids,” she said.

“We’re thinking that it could drive out to remote locations and stand there, and in the evening when it needs to refill it just goes off and restocks.”

This increase in experiential shopping is no new thing. With physical stores suffering in the wake of online, a lot of stores are being forced to adopt a more interesting way of attracting customers that may not relate to the traditional shopping experience.

A beta of the Moby Mart store has been running for six months on a university campus in Shanghai, where it has proven to be very successful.

Each store costs around £20,000 to make, and there are plans not only to roll out a second one but to make more in the future.

This beta has made a higher turnover than a corner store of the same size, and the founders claimed some people are using it every day.

While I was listening to the presentation I couldn’t help but think this might be one of the only use cases where this type of store would work.

While Lina Mazetti said these stores could drive out to remote locations to provide them with a corner-store type store, this is one of the places I think it actually won’t work – because it’s in these remote locations that corner stores are not closing down as the Mazetti’s suggest they are.

In a university campus, sure – it stops shops from having to employ staff members 24/7 and the younger tech-savvy generation are used to using their mobile devices as a means of identity and payment.

Regardless of whether or not they’ve properly thought through their use cases, the Moby Mart does have elements about it that are appealing to certain audiences, and a lot of tech has gone into making it.

Tom Mazetti, co-founder and chairman of Moby Mart, explained that the store has three systems in place to make sure everyone gets the best service possible.

First, goods can be scanned through QR codes on customer’s mobile devices because these are “the most convenient” and basically everyone has one.

The mobile stores are also fitted with cameras in the ceiling and shelves so they can track where you are in a store, items you have looked at and whether you picked anything up.

Mazetti said: “Using image analysis they can follow you around and say a customer took a bottle of milk from the shelf.”

The third technology used is RFID, which Mazetti claimed will be built into everything in the future, and also claimed that most stores are already using at least one of these three technologies.

Using these technologies together is something the brand calls “multi-sensory analysis” – customers like the feeling of scanning products, but the cameras are used at the same time to track customers, see what they do, collect data surrounding this and then using the results for artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning purposes.

While many in the audience were concerned about thieving customers, Mazetti was quite the opposite, and said rather than handing the trust over to the customer, it is more a case of the customer handing over trust to the brand.

He explained: “The only way you can enter our store is by registering.”

Once a customer registers, Moby Mart can charge them using the card details used, so Mazetti said it would be a “stupid place” for a thief to operate.

As much as I’m not sure some of the use cases presented such as other countries or city centres would be a good place for this concept, it doesn’t seem to matter to Moby Mart – people are moving towards self-checkout, cashless shopping and staffless stores.

Shops like the Amazon Go supermarket, where people walk in and walk out without having to do much else but pick up their goods, are becoming commonplace, and Mazetti said this will be the “only store” type in the future.

Mazetti claimed there is a market for around 2m of Moby Mart stores around China, and it hopes to sell them to other brands in the future.

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