Prototype Mobile Convenience Store Comes to the Customer

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Prototype Mobile Convenience Store Comes to the Customer


SHANGHAI — Moby Mart, a new convenience store prototype, wants to eliminate the need to go to the store. Flipping the age-old paradigm on its head, Moby Mart is a store that goes to the consumer.

A NPR report compares Moby Mart to a 7-Eleven crossed with a driverless tractor-trailer, explaining that Moby Mart is an autonomous and unstaffed mobile retail space that a shopper can call up with their phone like an Uber.

In an effort to usher in the future of retail, Moby Mart is doing away with cashiers and checkout lanes — similar to the Amazon Go prototype store in Seattle. Payment is made by signing up with Moby Mart, scanning purchases off the shelf, and paying with a phone app. 

The difference vs. Amazon Go is that with Moby Mart, the store can drive itself to wherever it's summoned, NPR reported. 

A Moby Mart prototype is currently operating in Shanghai. It is a collaborative effort between Hefei University in China and Switzerland-based company Wheelys.  

Per Cromwell, the lead designer for the project, said the plan is to build four to six additional Moby Marts in the coming year, and then ramp up production into the hundreds in 2018. Moby Marts are being slated for both small towns and big cities. 

Holographic store clerks are in the works to offer shoppers personalized assistance. To travel from one customer to another, Moby Mart will be piloted by artificial intelligence and use autonomous vehicle technology. A fleet of microdrones will make the deliveries to shoppers’ doorsteps, according to the report. 

In designing the Moby Mart prototype, Cromwell imagined a new way to cater to the modern convenience store shopper.

"Stores needs to be more flexible to meet the demands of the future," Cromwell told NPR. "Rents will go up in prime locations, margins will go down on a lot of products due to online retail. Stores need to become more efficient. Mobile and staffless is, to date, the most flexible and efficient solution. When online and offline merge, a new kind of store is needed."