During the COVID-19 pandemic, many retailers were forced to remain closed for an extended period out of health and safety concerns. Likewise, many people have been unable to shop locally to buy essentials, including Personal Protective Equipment and disinfecting supplies like masks, sanitizing wipes, bleach spray, gloves, and safety glasses. This confluence of circumstances means that supply chains have often become tied up or overloaded, unable to fulfill the last-mile delivery to customers.
A pop-up autonomous retail solution would provide a low-touch approach to get this vital supply flow unstuck.
What it does
This solution provides a portable cashier-less store that provides a low-touch approach to selling PPE, general healthcare, and other small merchandise. The technology used could be easily scaled up (e.g., into a 20-foot shipping container-based store) to sell larger goods.
The solar & battery powered autonomous stores can easily be deployed wherever needed and provide consumers with a variety of ways to purchase goods. They can use a smartphone to scan a QR code for any item to access the product detail page in a PWA (Progressive Web Apps) via Vue Storefront and purchase it, or they use a touch-screen built-into the front of the autonomous store unit itself, which also uses the same Vue Storefront interface.
An Electronic Shelf Label (ESL) for each locker & vending location is remotely updated with a unique QR code, the product title, and price. If the title or price is updated in commercetools, the ESL will automatically be updated with the latest information.
Once the payment is processed, the appropriate locker is opened or a vending machine coil is activated to dispense merchandise.
The store operator can see performance data from a cloud-based BI (Business Intelligence) dashboard.
How we built it
We built five “heads” as front-ends to a headless commercetools back-end. Several of these are Internet of Things hardware.
The five heads are:
- An Arduino-based custom-built Electronic Shelf Label (ESL) with an ePaper display.
- An IOT (Internet of Things) controller (Denkovi) that opens lockers and dispenses vending-machine style. Upon order completion
- Vue Storefront PWA front-end accessible via the customers smartphone or on a touch-screen on the portable store.
- A PowerBI dashboard for viewing order data.
- Digital signage which receives marketing content from a back-end headless CMS.
A 5G hotspot on board provides internet connectivity for the touch-screen PC. The PC also drives the external LCD for digital signage.
Challenges we ran into
Our team was distributed across a couple of continents, so we could not physically integrate the hardware into one demo. We had to mock-up the QR codes with paper on the cart while another team worked on the Arduino Python code and related commercetools integration.
Accomplishments that we're proud of
This solution provides many “heads” for headless commerce including several that are physical devices: the ESL and the IOT controller. It represents the hybrid “phygital” merger of physical and digital experiences.
What we learned
commercetools provides some great microservices interfaces!
What's next for Portable Autonomous PPE Store
We plan to integrate our dashboard more tightly into commercetools. We also plan to attach the ESL devices to the physical cart.