Moby Mart

AmazonGo Gets Closer To Launch, But MobyMart Is Already Live

Moby Mart, a dirverless, bus-size vehicle, roams downtown streets in Shanghai.

MobyMart, a driverless, bus-size vehicle, cruises downtown streets in Shanghai.

MobyMart, an unstaffed, driverless mobile store from a company called Wheelys, is now roaming the streets of Shanghai. Located via an app and accessible 24 hours a day, MobyMarts will be stocked with snacks, over-the-counter medicine and assorted sundries. Subscribers enter the vehicle (the size of a small bus) using the app, select and scan their purchases, and step off.

The first Moby Mart, in beta testing for the past two months in Shanghai, has now gone live. Current models are solar-powered and driven by remote control. Fully driverless models are planned for next year.

The Moby Mart offers products for immediate consumption, such as milk, lunch, or over-the-counter medicine. Computers, light bulbs and other goods can be ordered in advance for pick-up at the nearest MobyMart.

MobyMarts can communicate with one another and alert a central warehouse when stocks run low. Drones atop the vehicles can deliver products within a 3-mile radius.

The mobile store was developed by Wheelys and technical partners in China and Sweden.

Wheelys are combination bicycles and coffee carts. Available for as little as $4,000, Wheelys has sold some 850 units in 70 countries, according to the company.

The other developers of MobyMart are the Chinese powerhouse Hefei University Technical Institute and Himalafy, a Swedish retail consulting firm previously known as Naraffar that was purchased by Wheelys in 2016.

“Our price estimation is that a store will cost less than $100 000, around a tenth of the price to build a traditional store,” says the company.

For its part, AmazonGo is still in beta testing. The 1,800-square-foot store in downtown Seattle is open only to Amazon employees, who enter the premises using a smart-phone bar code. They select their purchases (and consume them on the premises, if they wish), and are charged without having to go through a check-out line.

Problems arose earlier this year when the store’s computers proved unable to cope with all the information they were getting from the shelves. The long-awaited public roll-out was delayed indefinitely.

Last month Amazon began recruiting for a senior real estate manager to oversee the locations for a public roll-out of the concept, which takes aim at one of the company’s a longtime targets: the multi-billion-dollar-a-year retail grocery business.

Amazon posted the opening on its corporate jobs site alongside a list of job responsibilities, which include developing and executing “a strategic real estate plan;” taking responsibility for “site selection and acquisition;” and coordinating “with local real estate brokers.”

Already in place is Amazon’s presence in another facet of this segment. Its AmazonFresh business now allows customers to place their orders and pick them up at two drive-through locations close to downtown Seattle.

Ronald Hol

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