While Amazon is developing the concept of the automated convenience Store which doesn’t require checkout clerks and uses robots to restock itself, a company called Wheelys has taken the concept to the next level -- automated convenience stores that drive around in search of customers. The first of these Moby Marts are being rolled out in Shanghai, China.

How does the Moby Mart work?

A Moby Mart is a self-contained convenience store that has no human beings on the premises. The idea is that a customer locates the nearest one on a smartphone app and then goes to the store to pick up whatever items that are desired.

When leaving the store, the cost of the items is automatically deducted through the smartphone app. If one is particularly lazy or has mobility issues, a friendly delivery drone will bring the items needed to one's doorstep.

When a Moby Mart runs low on stock, it automatically goes to a warehouse to restock or meets with another Moby Mart to exchange excess stock. The mobile convenience stores are solar powered and have air filters to cut down on Shanghai’s infamous smog. They will be remotely driven for the time being until technology and the law allows for autonomous transportation. Moby Marts will contain a pharmacy and a coffee shop and will have an ATM and a first aid station, complete with a defibrillator to deal with medical emergencies.

In the future will the convenience store come to you?

Convenience stores are aptly named because they are everywhere and contain basic staples that one can pick up if they are running short and don’t care to run to the supermarket. The Moby Mart looks like it is a convenience store on steroids. There will be no more hopping in the car to go to the store.

The Moby Mart may drive around on a prearranged pattern. But, eventually, they may behave like an Uber car, something that one can summon to one’s front door. The idea is that if one finds oneself running short on soft drinks or chips, instead of making a run for the store, one can bring the store to one’s house and make the purchases.

The idea has the potential to upend the notion of a retail store as a place one has to go to.

The Moby Mart concept could be adapted for a variety of product types, like clothing and shoes, or hardware and tools. Eventually the phrase “go to the store” may be something that one rarely does, and something that one’s grandparents had to do back in the good old days.

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