David BECK analyzes technological issues from a political, economic and management perspective.

JD.com Opens Two Autonomous Stores in the Netherlands

David BECK Academic - Society, Politics & Techology

Chinese e-commerce giant JD.com gives the starting signal for its European expansion: in the Dutch province of Limburg, the logistics specialist opened a distribution centre of 18,000 square metres in April 2021.

JD.com has been trying to enter Europe for years, but it has not done so without a struggle. In 2018, the e-commerce giant was very close to opening an office in Germany.

In China, JD.com is active in the food market with 7Fresh, a supermarket concept in the premium segment that stands out for its technological gadgets and catering offer. There are often fresh kitchens on site, while self-driving shopping carts and personalised product suggestions help the customer while shopping. In Chinese metropolitan tradition, groceries are also delivered free of charge within a three-kilometre radius.

JD.com has entered the autonomous store space in Europe with the launch of two omnichannel cashierless stores in the Netherlands. The Ochama shops, located in Leiden and Rotterdam, carry everything from food to home furnishings and are operated entirely by robots.

Shoppers can use the Ochama app to order products prior to their visit, and then automated vehicles and robotic arms will pick and sort the order, according to CNBC. Customers can then visit the store, scan a barcode on the app and have their products delivered to them on a conveyor belt.

Ochama takes a different approach from Amazon Go, which mimic traditional store shopping experiences in locations like a 10,400-square-foot grocery store in Seattle. JD.com’s store puts a focus on logistics and e-commerce, which may reflect the retailer’s efforts to expand its digital cross-border commerce offerings.

Amazon has a head start in the European cashierless store space with multiple stores it’s opened in the UK. The ecommerce giant’s Just Walk Out technology also is powering cashierless stores run by other retailers, including Sainsbury’s. However, JD.com may start to catch up with its plans to open two additional stores in the Netherlands, with locations set for Amsterdam and Utrecht.

Additionally, these aren’t the only two retailers opening automated stores in Europe, nor the only two concepts for how they will operate. Wundermart, which opened its first UK store in October 2021, plans to operate 10,000 cashierless convenience stores in a partnership with contactless a checkout company. Unlike Amazon or JD.com, Wundermarket is focusing on tiny shops with a focused product selection that can fit inside other business locations, such as hotels and offices.

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