China’s JD.com plans to open hundreds of unmanned convenience stores using facial recognition technology that allows customers to pay without standing in a checkout line, according to a recent report from The Telegraph.
JD.com recently partnered with China Overseas Land and Investment, a Hong Kong-based real estate development company, to set its plan for the stores in motion, according to separate report from Quartz.
The facial recognition system will include cameras mounted on store ceilings that, in addition to identifying customers and products for the payment process, also will be able to track customer movements and traffic flow, selection of specific products and apparent customer preferences, according to the reports.
Reports emerged from China a few months ago suggesting that JD.com was testing some prototype unmanned stores, although not much detail was available at that point. The more recent stories from the Telegraph, Quartz and elsewhere report that JD.com has been conducting a trial of the unmanned store concept at its Beijing headquarters, with the test involving around 10,000 of its own employees.
JD.com is not the only e-commerce industry giant that has been running its own employees through a prototype store with a cashierless checkout system. Amazon has been doing the same with Amazon Go, the concept for a frictionless shopping experience that it announced a year ago this month.
And just this week a report emerged suggesting that Walmart is pursuing a similar concept. Walmart's move probably shouldn't comes as a surprise, given that its has been dabbling with its quick-payment Scan and Go technology for a while now.
It may also be worth noting that Walmart is an investor in and partner of JD.com. That doesn't mean the two would necessarily coordinate efforts to create frictionless stores, but it could mean they will be comparing notes on one another's experiences.
It's too early to call any of these companies the pioneer of the frictionless brick-and-mortar shopping experience or the unmanned store. However, JD.com's vision may be the boldest one, and its facial recognition system the most intriguing, potentially difference-making technology.
Going into a store, picking out what you want to buy and then leaving with your payment automatically completed is the ideal for a retail sector looking to eliminate all points of friction. It's a vision that seemed impossible a couple of years ago, but suddenly seems much closer to reality.