Another day, another couple thousand dollars changing hands with no cash and no cashiers. As facial recognition technology continues to be touted by China’s leadership as a core plank of homegrown innovation, more and more players are entering the game in the private sector. The latest is Suning, a retailer slinging consumer electronics, household goods and lifestyle accessories across 700 cities in China.
Suning just opened their second unmanned store, allowing customers in Shanghai to waltz in, load their shopping carts, and pay by letting a camera match a scan of their face with a bank account. TechNode, outlining a story originally reported by Chinese publication The Paper, breaks it down:
Before entering the store, users download 苏宁金融 (Suning Finance) app on their mobile phone in advance, go through face recognition and link their bank card. After scanning their face, users can enter the unmanned store to start shopping.
Facial scan pay is set to cut both ways, disrupting both traditional, brick-and-mortar retail and e-commerce. It’s panning out as a proxy war between the two companies dominating the latter field in China: Alibaba, with their Taobao and T Mall marketplaces and Alipay payment platform, and JD.com, an e-commerce site that has inked partnerships with Tencent (Alibaba’s major competitor for mobile payments, via their WeChat Pay platform) and Baidu (a search giant that’s been seeking new competitive ground with plays in AI and big data).
An AFP reporter recently visited JD headquarters in Beijing, where visitors can access a fully functioning facial scan convenience store:
Functional face scan payment supermarket @ JD HQ: no staff, take what you want, facial recognition in & out +loads of cameras to ID products pic.twitter.com/O1ePwFnnKO
— Becky Davis (@rebeccaludavis) November 6, 2017
We’ll certainly have a lot more to say about this tech as it takes root across China, and the battle between the heavyweights involved spills over into everyday life. In fact we’ll probably have more to say about it within a week, as Alibaba looks primed to roll out a suite of headline-ready “new retail” features during their upcoming Singles’ Day extravaganza.
Cover photo: The Paper