Autonomous store tech firm AiFi recently closed a funding round led by Qualcomm Ventures, pushing its total raised to date to $30 million. Cervin Ventures, TransLink Capital, Plum Alley and others also invested in the startup, the company announced Monday.
The company said it is building hundreds of new and retrofitted autonomous stores worldwide, with 330 stores expected to open in 2021.
The company has partnerships with retailers across the U.S., Europe and Australia. Multiple stores in California and Texas will open by the end of 2020, per the company statement.
The recent funding will allow AiFi to develop its autonomous store platform, Oasis, to speed up retailer implementation, Steve Gu, AiFi's co-founder and CEO, said in a statement. For the venture capital firms, the investment in AiFi stemmed in part from the growing demand for contactless shopping, Carlos Kokron, vice president of Qualcomm Technologies and managing director of Americas at Qualcomm Ventures, said.
While demand appeared to increase during the COVID-19 pandemic, retailers and investors had been putting resources behind contactless and cashierless technologies even prior to that. Zippin raised $12 million in Series A funding in December 2019 to roll out cashierless checkout technologies to grocery stores, airports, sports facilities and other retailers. In early February, 7-Eleven tested out its own cashierless store in Texas, signaling a potential shift in its convenience store operations. Standard, which raised $35 million last year and acquired Checkout Technologies in May, recently turned a c-store at the University of Houston into a checkout-free retail store in collaboration with the university and its dining service provider.
It remains to be seen whether the coronavirus pandemic will push consumers toward more contactless payment adoption in the long term, but early research suggests that it's possible. According to an August report from the National Retail Federation, 94% of retailers surveyed said they expect contactless payments to increase during the next 18 months.