The Return of the Corner Store – On Four Wheels
Retailers have it hard. In the cities, real-estate is expensive and suitable locations are difficult to find. In rural areas, it is difficult to justify the investment in a store for a dwindling population. Online retailing and having goods delivered directly to our front door, has been both part of the solution and simultaneously a contribution to the headache of traditional bricks and mortar retailers.
A new player in the retail business, Moby Mart, is looking to change all this with their AI supported, autonomous retail outlets. The concept is very simple. If customers cannot get to the shops, or there isn’t a local shop to visit, then why not take the shop to the customer?
The team behind the Moby Mart, Wheelys, is already in the business of supporting those wanting to get into the café marketplace. They have developed several iterations of a trike-based mobile café bar which are linked to a smartphone app allowing customers to find these mobile traders. Now, they are going one step further: The Moby Mart is a futuristic, electrically driven, mobile supermarket store. Stacked with daily essentials, Moby Mart customers will need to become members and download the app to access the store. The app then allows the customer to open the shop’s door, enter, and browse the wares. Once inside, the smartphone app can be used to scan barcodes and have those goods be put into your virtual shopping cart. The AI uses knowledge of previous purchases to help you out whilst shopping, perhaps reminding you of items you occasionally buy that might have run out. If you’re stuck for a meal it could potentially provide recipe ideas based upon the available produce. Upon leaving the store, your purchases would be automatically charged to your account.
Although not currently implemented, the long-term goal is to make the Moby Mart stores fully autonomous, leveraging the same AI as used by self-driving cars. Customers will be able to request a visit from the store via the app at any time of the day. Alternatively, the Moby Mart could roam from village to village, providing a local shopping opportunity in rural areas where the local shop has long since shut down.
It is clear that the classical methods of retail in fixed locations won’t remain cost-effective forever. And, while the Moby Mart may seem a little far-fetched today, it may just be visiting your doorstep very soon.