AEON, Rakuten, Seiyu: cheaper unmanned stores & delivery robots

Date : 12 April 2021

Francis Ramos

Senior Retail Analyst

Japanese supermarket chain Daiei will launch an unmanned store in Tokyo, in collaboration with Chinese startup Cloudpick.  In addition, Rakuten and Seiyu are now also using robots to deliver supermarket purchases in Yokosuka City, Japan.

Cost to implement Daiei’s store is 50% cheaper than similarly sized unmanned stores

Daiei, an affiliate of AEON, will open this unmanned supermarket in Tokyo’s Koto area before it considers rolling it out to other districts in Japan.  The shelves inside the store will still be stocked by staff, but there are no cashiers.  The structure will be equipped with cameras and sensors that will identify what the shopper takes, so that he can be charged the correct amount.  The cost of opening Daiei’s unmanned store is estimated to be JPY 30m (US$274,000) per 100 sq m.  This is 50% cheaper than similarly sized unmanned stores, as it plans to equip the store with fewer sensors.  Cloudpick has provided a similar technology to about 130 unmanned stores in 11 countries.

Source: Nippon TV News 24 Japan

First time in Japan that a robot will use public roads to deliver groceries

Rakuten and Seiyu are testing robots to deliver supermarket purchases from the Seiyu Mabori store in Yokosuka City, Kanagawa Prefecture.  This is the first time in Japan that a robot will use public roads to deliver groceries, and will run for a limited time from March 23 to April 22, 2021.  Prior to this launch, a public road driving experiment was conducted in the Mabori coastal area in December 2020 to confirm that these robots can drive safely on public roads.  To further ensure safety, a security personnel will accompany the robot, and the vehicle will independently drive on public roads within the block at 4 km/h while being remotely monitored by a camera.  The delivery robot can be loaded with an equivalent of four supermarket shopping carts.  Shoppers can order from a range of 400 items, but excludes fresh and frozen foods, as well as those that require special handling. 

Robot delivery service can be availed in two ways

There are two ways to avail of this delivery service: (1) Those in the Maborikaigan area of Yokosuka City can select products from the Rakuten Pay app in their mobile phones, and specify their address and desired delivery time when placing an order.  (2) The other is to bring the products purchased at the Seiyu Maborikaigan store to the service counter and request delivery.   To encourage more users to avail of this service, delivery will be free during this limited period but additional charges may be  considered in the future.  Once the delivery robot approaches the destination, it notifies its arrival using an automated voice call to the phone number of the customer.  And when the customer receives the notification and meets the robot, a password on the operation panel is needed to unlock the door and retrieve the items purchased.  General Manager of Rakuten’s drone and UGV division, Hideaki Mukai, commented, “After this experiment, the next goal is to autonomously drive multiple automatic delivery robots by remote monitoring without attendants.  The environment for legislation has already been set up, and we want to realise it as soon as possible.”  

COVID-19 and a shrinking population have accelerated these initiatives

The rise of unmanned stores and delivery robots in Japan have been triggered by the demand for contactless solutions as a result of the pandemic, as well as a shrinking and aging population that is causing a labour shortage in the retail sector.  Systems of unmanned stores based on artificial intelligence and facial recognition are already being used by the likes of Amazon Go in China, the US and the UK.  Kasumi, another retailer under the AEON group, Kinokuniya and FamilyMart have also worked together with Touch To Go to launch similar unmanned stores in Japan. 

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