With the rapid increase in self-service adoption over the past two years, consumers are increasingly looking for shopping options that put them in the driver’s seat. At the same time, with today’s labor challenges, restaurants and grocers are struggling to staff their stores and are therefore eager to adopt solutions that reduce their labor requirements. .
In this context, Tortoise, a company that has historically focused on providing robotic solutions for last mile delivery for grocery and general retail, is focusing on providing automated mobile stores that operate a much like traveling vending machines. On Friday March 4, the company officially announced the launch of its Mobile Smart Stores.
“We kept seeing this funny thing happen in all of our deployments that when a robot was parked in a store or in a corner waiting across the road, people would approach them. and started talking to the robot and expected to be able to interact with it,” Tortoise CEO Dmitry Shevelenko told PYMNTS in an interview. “When we interviewed them afterwards, what these people all said was, ‘Oh, we thought we could buy something from the robot’, and as is often the case, your customers are much savvier than you are. “
He explained that in response to these expectations, Tortoise began testing the model. The company installed NFC readers in the top of locked containers, allowing consumers to tap to pay. This unsealed the container, letting the customer take their item. The whole process was supervised by a remote monitor.
The launch comes with 18 food and convenience retail customers already signed up, including virtual kitchen companies Reef and Nextbite and UK super-fast grocer Jiffy. In the coming months, these Smart Stores will be launched in a wide range of areas: New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Denver, Dallas, San Diego and London, among others.
Shevelenko argued that part of the appeal to consumers is the “kind of magical checkout experience”, in which consumers pay for their items “no screen, app, website, QR code needed”.
Each container contains a SKU with the price listed on the outside, so consumers can buy the one that advertises “2 cookies for $7” or “Turkey sandwich with homemade chips $10”. Early trials so far have focused on relatively unknown brands, and even without that name recognition, Shevelenko said, consumer interest has been promising.
“The crazy thing is that it only takes 15 seconds and people are buying items over $35 from a robot,” he said.
Contactless payment options are hugely appealing to today’s consumers. Contactless payments now account for half of all in-person transactions globally, an increase from the previous ratio of one in three transactions, according to Mastercard.
Read more: Mastercard: contactless payments now account for 50% of global in-person transactions
In addition, consumers are accustomed to using these payment methods for food and basic necessities purchases. According to survey data highlighted in PYMNTS’ “The Anatomy Of A Consumer Payment” playbook, created in collaboration with FIS, contactless payments now account for approximately 80% of in-person transactions at grocery stores and grocery stores. pharmacies.
See also: Anatomy of a Consumer Payment: David’s Bride Marries Security and Omnichannel Payments to Build Consumer Trust
In an effort to lower the barrier of entry for merchant adoption, the company does not charge up front. Instead, it takes a 10% cut from gross sales, with Tortoise providing the technology and remote monitoring. In initial tests, these stores brought in between $80 and $100 an hour, which Tortoise says is 25 times higher than the average hourly wage for a traditional vending machine.
“Unlike what we were doing in delivery, here we are focusing on revenue growth rather than trying to make the case for cost savings,” Shevelenko said.
These stores are not the first mobile and robotic stores. Robomart, the Santa Monica, Calif.-based “shopping service,” has been making the rounds in West Hollywood and Midtown Hollywood, with consumers asking for the mobile snack like they would an Uber or a Lyft.
Related News: Robomart Fights Cart Fatigue by Bringing the Convenience Store to the Consumer’s Doorstep
However, Shevelenko argues that Tortoise’s Smart Stores are nonetheless the first of their kind, as the merchant, rather than the consumer, decides where the mobile unit goes.
“Robomart really remains a delivery solution. … You ask for it, and it comes to you,” he said. “[But] if you go to the end of google and can’t find anything out there that is a mobile vending machine. »
one and done
The value for merchants is clear: it allows them to sell more items in new geographies when the store is closed, all without deploying additional human labor.
For consumers, Shevelenko believes that the main value of the model lies in the ease of purchase.
“The history of commerce is making payments ever more seamless. We’ve taken a big step in evolution by having…dedicated mapping from an NFC reader to a product SKU,” Shevelenko asserted.” When you have it set up this way, you’re enabling this checkout completely frictionless.”