Last month, it was reported that the famous investor Warren Buffett was pulling all of his money out of brick-and-mortar retail. Fast forward to this month, a new report has now revealed that over 1,000 stores throughout the United States have closed down for good in a single week. They’re calling it the “retail apocalypse,” noting that the brick-and-mortar industry is on a crash course towards collapse. The reason why? They simply cannot keep up with the rising popularity of online, digital stores.
However, if brick-and-mortar truly wants to survive this crash, there may just be a light at the end of the tunnel – and it’s self-driving! Wheelys Inc., a startup company that was prominently known for their chain of organic bicycle cafés, have teamed up with Hefei University and Swedish retail consulting firm Himalafy to launch the Moby Mart – an autonomous, self-driving supermarket. Currently being beta tested in Shanghai, the Moby Mart relies on self-driving technology which allows it to autonomously operate on-the-go whenever hailed via an app.
The store is open 24/7 and is fully interactive with an onboard artificial intelligence (AI) system that is prepared to answer any questions you may have. Not only that, but it’s also one of the world’s most environmentally-friendly retail store, relying on solar panels as its source of power and is equipped with an integrated air purifier. Entering the store, scanning the items you want, and checking out are all processed through your phone. And once you’re done, the Moby Mart will continue moving, always ready for its next customer.
Five to ten years from now, the future of retail could be a dramatically different industry altogether. With online, digital stores on the rise and self-driving technology being integrated across different sectors of society, brick-and-mortar’s fate are now largely in the hands of emerging technologies. Just yesterday, it was reported that Amazon had purchased Whole Foods, of which will soon be integrated into their digital catalog, providing same-day delivery services via their app or voice assistants like Alexa.
As Warren Buffett warned, “I have no illusion that 10 years from now will look the same as today, and there will be a few things along the way that surprise us. The world has evolved, and it’s going to keep evolving, but the speed is increasing.”
“The Moby Mart is an autonomous, staffless, mobile store, turning every parking space in the world into a potential new 24-hour store… It is the store that comes to you, instead of you coming to the store.”
Thirty to fifty years from now, retail will have completely transformed. It will largely be an online service, of which will be easily accessible via mixed-reality applications. Using whatever mixed-reality device you have, the entire store will unfold into your physical space, turning your home (or wherever you may be) into a store in and of itself. From there you’ll make your purchases and, on that same day, your items will then be delivered to you via drones and other robotic transportation systems.
Brick-and-mortar may still be around, but it, too, will be completely transformed thanks to self-driving technology. Whenever you’re out with friends or family, you’ll be able to hail nearby stores to come to you, as they would operate autonomously like the Moby Mart. In the more urban neighborhoods, we may even witness self-driving gardens or greenhouses. This is the future we’re heading towards – a future where nearly everything is app-based, self-driving, and on-demand.
Photo Credit: Wheelys