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Entrepreneur

Inspired By Japan’s Tech, This M’sian Is Building A Smart Store That Needs No Employees

After seeing the long queues bred from the SOPs for shopping, Yee Yun Lim wondered how something so simple like an errand run became so complex.

She recalled her experience at a Japanese convenience store where she could quickly tap in with her metro card, get what she needed, and tap out.

Amazed at how convenient and quickly it was to grab-and-go with her items sans queuing, she decided to bring this concept to the local scene.

A Proof-Of-Concept Smart Store

Through her company, Aye Solutions—pronounced, “I” Solutions—she’s bringing her proof-of-concept (POC) AI store here to the untapped local market, calling it the Aye Smart Store​. 

Her goal is to make AI more accessible ​to local businesses and applicable to the mass market through its ​localised​ ​plug and play model​.

Dictionary time: Plug and play is used to describe devices that work with a computer system as soon as they’re connected, without the need for external drivers or prior installation.

TechTerms

The store works like this. Imagine a physical store that’s unmanned, providing a fully automated experience from the moment you enter until you leave.

To enter the store, simply tap either a bank card or Aye Solutions’ app at the entrance gates, like entering the LRT.

You can then browse and pick up items from the shelves and place them in a physical shopping bag. 

The Aye Smart Store will automatically add your items into their virtual copy of your cart without any scanning required.

If you change your mind, you can put items back on the shelves and Aye’s system will deduct it from your cart.

To check out, you’ll simply walk out of the store. That same card you used to enter with will be automatically charged by Aye’s system.

Talk About The Tech

When I first read about this concept store, I hypothesised that for it to work, there must be some kind of motion sensor underneath each item.

That’s how it would know when a customer picks something up and puts it back down, right?

I also wondered if only one person was allowed in the store at a time for the system to track their movements.

Upon interviewing Yun Lim, she told Vulcan Post that Aye’s system is built to track multiple shoppers at a time. 

Meanwhile, how the store automatically knows what you’ve picked up or put back is through the store’s backend network of sensors and cameras, which track and analyse the movement of shoppers.

Furthermore, store managers can track the store’s operations in real-time through an app.

In all, these steps should eliminate the concern of shoplifting, as every shopper who enters the store is tied to the card they’ve tapped in with. 

The fluidity and ease of shopping presented by automation certainly seems like cutting-edge tech. It does, however, call for certain accountability from each shopper too, especially in putting back items in its right place if minds are changed. 

Employing smarter tech also comes with scepticism from a market that isn’t often exposed to it. With the shop’s cameras and sensors tracking your movement from the moment you enter, you may be having privacy concerns.

However, the presence of the cameras in the Aye Smart Store will be for a smoother shopping experience and security purposes, Yee Yun assured.

No Strings Attached

As for the information tied to your card, Yun Lim clarified that the Aye Smart Store does not keep any personal details in their backend. The same goes for banking information too.

“We practice a strict data privacy policy and do not sell any personal details to third parties,” she said.

“As for banking details, the payment terminal is owned by the financial service provider, like a bank, and all information is stored by them. The financial service provider acts as an intermediary between the Aye Smart Store and the customer.”

The only information Aye requests is a customer’s mobile number to send a verification code for purchases. It also acts as a point of contact.

The store is being set up, though its opening is delayed by the MCO / Image Credit: Aye Solutions

Aye’s POC store will be located in Glenmarie. Yun Lim hopes that it can showcase Aye’s technology to consumers, business owners, and investors alike. 

“This is important as an integrated autonomous retail solution like this does not exist in the local market yet. We want people to experience the technology first-hand and experience the true meaning of a highly tech assisted lifestyle,” she said.

The setting up of the POC will also allow Aye’s team of engineers to enhance their services. They will then make improvements according to the needs of local business owners and consumers alike.

Though the MCOs have made Malaysians more open to online shopping for essentials, I believe that more than just shopping, Aye is offering a new experience to consumers.

I’m interested to see the types of brands and products the Aye Smart Store will carry, as this may determine how often I’d return as a customer once the novelty wears off.

However, Yee Yun added that there is reason to visit the smart store outside of experiencing something new, because it’ll be selling both consumable and non-consumable essentials like most convenience stores.

By being a store that functions on little to no contact between humans as well as a better crowd control system, Yee Yun also sees Aye as playing a crucial role in fulfilling people’s desires for offline shopping during the pandemic.

Editor’s Update: Parts of this article have been edited to reflect greater accuracy of statements.

  • You can learn about Aye Solutions here.
  • You can read more Malaysian startups here.

Featured Image Credit: Yee Yun Lim, founder of Aye Solutions / Touch To Go at Akabane station, Japan

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