JD.com Brings the Future of Robotic Stores to Europe - RETHINK
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JD.com Brings the Future of Robotic Stores to Europe

Photo courtesy of JD.com

 

Last week saw China’s retail giant JD.com expand into its first bricks-and-mortar stores in Europe, opting for two locations within The Netherlands: Leiden and Rotterdam.

With two additional locations in the pipeline (Amsterdam and Utrecht), the Ochama concept has high hopes of entering the automated-store model with aplomb.

The store allows customers to place their orders through the JD.com app—offering up an array of groceries and home furnishings—which will be fulfilled by robots based in the store.

Customers will then be given the choice of pick-up or home delivery, with those who opt to visit the store simply needing to scan a QR code to commence the collection process.

Ochama will require a €10 sign-up fee after its initial launch, but Dutch consumers can sign-up for free during its launch phase in a bid to drive footfall.

The concept offers a synergy between efficiency and novelty, with those who visit the store being able to watch the robots packaging up their parcels through a partial view into the automated onsite warehouse.

A team of automated ground vehicles and robot arms navigate the warehouse to deliver parcels onto a conveyor belt to the customer, allowing for a fully checkout-free solution.


 

The stores follow a similar concept to Amazon’s recent launches of Amazon Go in the UK and US, indicating that appetite for these retail solutions is growing—particularly in the home essentials market.

ABI Research found that “the collaborative robotics (cobots) market is predicted to exceed $24 billion by 2030”, with reports predicting an “increase with a CAGR of 28.6% till 2030”. Amazon, however, have also been incorporating cobots into their warehouses for years now, saving as much as “$22 million’ each time they add them into new or existing premises.

In these instances, the robots minimise time wasted by humans manually locating products across vast warehouses, instead taking over this part of the process, whilst the human workers focus on the holistic fulfilment of the product.

In fact, the endeavour has been so successful that the trends have been reversed: humans are now “spending 80% of their time fulfilling orders and only 20% of their time navigating”, thanks to the introduction of cobots like ‘Kiva’. You may be surprised to discover that this practice has been in play as far back as 2016, indicating the prevalence of robotic solutions as we move through the ‘20s.

E-commerce solutions such as Shopify are also looking to move into cashless stores, “after leaked documents show that it has filed a patent for a system of sensors that can measure traffic in retail store”.

The possibilities surrounding the robotics industry look to be accelerating at pace, with Facebook’s Meta very recently applying for a patent for ‘human-like’ skin and eyes for their robot designs of the future.

The patent, as told by iTech Post, “explained in detail that this robotic eyeball contains a volume equivalent to the human eye. Aside from this, it is also said to include an exterior frame shaped like the outer surface of a genuine human eyeball.”

In addition to this, Meta teamed up with Carnegie Mellon University in 2020 to begin working on a semblance of human skin for its future robots; whereby the robot will have the ability to “sense pressures as little as 0.1 Newton on objects as thin as 1mm across, allowing robotic components to handle delicate goods without risking damage”.

Suffice to say, there is much to point at a reality that incorporates robots in a far more mainstream approach over the coming years.

Whether it’s the industrial robot sector, where it was reported by Global News Wire that its “market size to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 10.32% by 2026”, or the progression of AI to further Ecommerce giants’ understanding of consumer behaviour—this isn’t a trend to take lightly.

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