Summary of Unmanned Convenience Shelves May Not Live Up to the Hype

Looking for the article?
We have the summary! Get the key insights in just 5 minutes.

Unmanned Convenience Shelves May Not Live Up to the Hype summary
Start getting smarter:
or see our plans


8 Overall

8 Applicability

9 Innovation

7 Style


Amazon has garnered a lot of press with its “unmanned supermarket.” In China, many companies are experimenting with “unmanned retail.” Companies have opened unmanned convenience stores, smart vending machines and unmanned shelves. In 2017, unmanned smart shelves in particular became the breakout trend. In contrast to smart vending machines – which have more sophisticated inventory control and payment options – unmanned shelves are simply open shelves and refrigerators. A QR code on the shelf will lead you to a products page where you pick the items you want and pay using WeChat Wallet. Then you simply grab what you want. Because they are easy to set up, they were popping up everywhere in China. Start-ups set up shelves and refrigerators inside offices and on the street, stacking them with snacks and drinks you would usually find at the convenience store down the street. These stores offer more variety than traditional snack-focused vending machines and more convenience than a trip to the local supermarket – which of course makes them popular. But with so many players in the market and so much hype, it’s hard to get a real grasp of the business landscape. Phoenix Weekly columnist Cui Sunya has compiled advice from a collection of start-up founders and investors to shed some light on the less glamorous side of the business. getAbstract recommends this eye-opening read to investors, entrepreneurs and anyone who’s being following the careful rollout of Amazon Go.

In this summary, you will learn

  • What China’s ”unmanned convenience smart shelf” business is like,
  • Why you should abstain from investing in it this year and
  • What the prospects for 2018 for this type of convenience store business look like.

About the Author

Cui Sunya is an op-ed columnist at Phoenix Weekly  and covers all things business, finance and tech.



“Unmanned smart shelves” are an emerging retail trend. The industry, which had a small handful of players in 2015, had more than 50 competing companies by the end of 2017, backed by more than ¥2 billion ($315.64 million) in total. Cheetah Mobile entered the market in 2017, boasting 5,000 locations just a month after opening. Alibaba Group joined the industry as well.