Chinese startup F5 Future Stores, which runs 24-hour unmanned convenience stores that are entirely managed by robotic arms, has closed its Series B round of financing, collecting nearly RMB 100 million (USD 14.5 million), according to 36Kr.
The new funds from this round, which was led by Peakview Capital and joined by pre-Series A round investor TCL Capital, will be used to open 50 stores. These stores will be located in universities, factories, and central business districts in Foshan, Guangzhou, and Shenzhen, all in China’s Guangdong province. F5’s website shows that it should have at least 13 such stores in operation.
A typical store is made up of three vending machines and an automatic cleaning machine. The first vending machine sells fast-moving consumer goods such as standard canned beverages, and it takes 7 seconds to complete the order on average. The second vending machine sells fresh foods such as noodles and minced fish balls, taking about 50 seconds to serve the dish. The third vending machine sells beverages such as hot coffee on spot, which it can do in 20 seconds.
Although expansion is on F5’s schedule, it said that the first priority is to test the profitability of each store and then to increase the density and scale of stores.
F5 estimates that the cost of each store is at about RMB 180,000 (USD 26,208) and that it takes between 3 months to 15 months to collect back the investment.
Unmanned stores once prevailed in China in early 2017 as a new concept favored by investors but many of them have just shut down due to unprofitability. BingoBox launched its first unmanned store in May 2017 in Shanghai and shut down it in September the same year. GoGo Xiaochao’s similar stores were all shut down in February 2018. Most of those early attempts, however, were cashierless convenience stores, not fully automated ones like F5’s.