Amazon.com betting that future stores will not have clerks or registers. A company in Japan thinks they can get there first.
Signpost Corp., which has a staff of around 100, has deployed technology at a kiosk on the train station platform in Tokyo. This is an ideal test place: small spaces that are no bigger than bedrooms with special entrances and exits, and commuters in a hurry.
Signpost, which plans to unveil a product deal with a large retail chain later this year, rose 9.3 percent to 5,460 yen at the close Thursday, a record since the company's market debut last year.
Cameras and artificial intelligence software track merchandise and purchases.
Yasushi founder Kambara called it the "Super Wonder Register," and said that the system could be installed in any store. Investors are impressed. Signpost shares, which went public last year, have surged more than 50 percent since launching the store in early October. A smooth shopping experience is almost the same as at Amazon Go, a cashier retailer store without a web retailer at its Seattle headquarters.
"There are already automatic toll roads and turnstiles at the train station," Kambara said. "In the same way, we want to automate the store register. That is my dream."
At stake is the smart shop market which is projected to process more than US $ 78 ($ 115) billion in annual transactions by 2022, according to Juniper Research.
Amazon's chief executive officer Jeff Bezos also bet that smooth shopping is the future of retail. The e-commerce company is said to be planning to open as many as 3,000 Amazon Go outlets in the next few years. A spokesman for Amazon declined to comment on the new Signpost store.
Plang will start selling its products to Japanese and foreign supermarkets, supermarkets and train station kiosks next year. Kambara said it would be charged a retailer fee of around 100 million yen ($ 880,000) to install the Super Wonder Register system in a supermarket of around 500 square meters (5,400 square feet).
He predicts that the Signpost will install 30,000 systems in Japan in February 2021, including the Wonder Register, a simpler cashier terminal that identifies products using cameras. Including overseas sales, "we will be higher than our target," Kambara said.
From Alibaba Group Holding to Tencent Holdings and BingoBox, Chinese companies are experimenting with their own smart stores. Tencent opened a 300 square meter "We Life" store this year, while Alibaba set up a cashless cafe in its hometown, Hangzhou.
In Japan, the Signpost can see some initial competition: San Francisco-based Start Cognition plans to launch a camera-based automatic checkout technology targeting at 3,000 retail locations by 2020.
US startups have an agreement with a network of Japanese suburban drug stores, Yakuodo. and plans to partner with retail businesses in this country. Other large stores and supermarket operators have also approached the Cognition Standard.
The Japanese retail market has the potential to be an attractive market for automatic payments; for example, there are more than 55,000 conveniences offering snacks, drinks and packaged foods, as well as banking and shipping services. They often struggle to find clerks, and increasingly hire non-Japanese to stock shelves and buy goods.
Tomoaki Kawasaki, an analyst at Iwai Cosmo Securities Co., said that signposts were the only company other than Amazon that could provide knowledge. Lack of labor will also spur adoption, he said.
"They are very fast developing this technology," Kawasaki said.
So far, Signpost has won over customers like Chiaki Chushi, who recently took drinks at the Akabane station kiosk. Stores store items such as rice crackers, bottles of green tea, and other sundries. With the same electronic payment card used for rail costs, buyers enter when they enter the store.
At the exit, they stand in the highlighted area and can check their purchases on the screen before tapping out. "It's really smooth," Chushi said.
Kambara, 52, started his company a decade ago after working at the Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group technology department. The main business of the main board is consultation, but the goal from the start is to develop a cash register, he said. After years of experimenting with placing sensors in a shopping basket, engineers turned to machine learning to build their image recognition systems.
Signpost stock has risen more than nine times since the initial public offering a year ago, giving an assessment of around $ 400 million. While the Super Wonder Register loses money and generates less than 7 percent of revenue, it will benefit next year and become the main business in 2021, said Kambara. The key is to get retailers to understand the benefits of technology, he said.
"Amazon will not share their Go technology with others," Kambara said. "They will try and turn off the existing retail stores, so we want to provide the retail weapons shops they need to fight."