Retail Insights
The Pandemic Accelerates Adoption of “Smart Lockers”
  • Categories:Retail Insights
  • Author: KT Wu
  • Origin:Hanshow Retail Academy
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(Summary description)

The Pandemic Accelerates Adoption of “Smart Lockers”

(Summary description)


HeyTea: In-store smart lockers greatly reduce queues

Recently, HeyTea tested the “tea cupboard” in-store smart lockers in Shenzhen, in an attempt to reduce the time customers spend on waiting. Customers can place orders online, and clerks can put the drinks in the locker after the they are made, and then customers will receive a notification with password to access the drinks.


As a pilot program for staff-free tea shopping experience, the smart lockers of is located in a HeyTea GO store in Shenzhen with a total of 40 cells. This store is also the first store in China to implement this model. At present, there are three types of Heytea stores: standard stores, general stores in commercial centers, and HEYTEA GO stores in communities and office buildings. Among them, the GO store is designed as a convenience store that does not have service staff, where orders can only be placed through the mini program (in Wechat). GO stores are similar to Luckin Coffee’s fast-fetching store, especially after the launch of the smart lockers, the drink delivery methods will be more diversified.

HeyTea explained that “…the original intention of launching the smart lockers is to optimize the meal delivery experience, boost the convenience of consumers, and alleviate the pressure within the store.” He explained that this model will be gradually expanded to more stores, and further improve the software and hardware to cater to customer needs. As for now, the lockers are only placed in GO stores, and whether this will be extended to other store types is still unknown.

According to Dazhong Dianping (Chinese version of “Yelp”), smart lockers received great customer feedbacks. One customer replied that “… there’s no direct contact with the clerk from placing the order all the way to getting my drink. This is especially valuable given the current circumstance of the pandemic”. Another customer commented on the drink itself, “smart lockers can maintain the temperature of the drink so that even if we retrieve the drink 30 minutes late, it still tastes the same.”

ELEME-Takeout: Smart Lockers Pilot in Thousands of On-Campus Canteens


Recently, Eleme-takeout has reached strategic cooperation with about 500 university canteens such as East China Normal University and Daqing Normal University, and also group meal platforms such as McGindi. So far, nearly 1,000 college canteens in 100 cities across China have implemented Eleme-takeout service.

The campus canteen solution provided by Eleme-takeout offers fully digitized services in the order, distribution and delivery of food. For college canteens, Eleme has launched “online restaurants”, “contactless dining” delivery services, and “low delivery fee” among policies that supports on-campus canteens. Moreover, Eleme introduced smart lockers in the Minhang campus of East China Normal University and Hangzhou Binjiang Higher Education Park to experiment with contact-free delivery services.

The smart lockers not only provides convenience for students, but also facilitates school management by creating more possibilities in logistical services. To cater to on-campus needs, Eleme has customized service strategies that are different from off-campus delivery. The smart lockers also enables students to work part-time for delivery within campus to earn money.

Meituan-takeout Pilots Smart Lockers in Beijing and Shanghai

The purpose of the smart lockers is to temporarily store food and wait for the customers to fetch at their convenience. Its appearance resembles a transparent express cabinet with heat preservation functions. The delivery person puts the meal in the cabinet, and the customers can pick up by scanning a QR code. The whole process requires zero-contact between the seller and the buyer.


However, compare to traditional express cabinets, the smart lockers of Meituan-takeout require higher quality and sanitary standards due to the need for food preservation. The smart lockers also have ultraviolet lights that has disinfection, sterilization, and heat preservation functions specifically designed for storing food.

In January 2021, with the recurrence of the COVID epidemic in Shenyang, Meituan-takeout began to put smart food lockers in large office buildings and apartments in Shenyang and opened them up to all delivery people and customers. Each compartment of the smart locker uses carbon fiber heating wires to keep the food warm, and installs ultraviolet rays for real-time disinfection. This eliminates customers’ concerns over the spread of diseases over food delivery.

At the end of 2019, Meituan began to implement small-scale pilot programs for smart lockers in Beijing and Shanghai. In 2020, driven by the pandemic, Meituan accelerated the deployment of lockers around the country. As of right now, the Meituan’s smart lockers has expanded all around China with more than 1,000 stations. In 2021, Meituan stated that it will speed up the installation of smart meal lockers in the future.

Smart Lockers that Sell Fresh Food are Gaining Popularity

Starting a fresh food business usually requires a great deal of investment, including rent and salaries for employees. However, a smart vending locker that automatically sells fresh food may solve the problem. Recently, in many local communities around China, fresh food retail businesses are piloting with smart fresh food lockers.


There are several merits to this machine. First, the operations cost is low. By eliminating the cost of a brick-and-mortar store and staffing, the only extra costs left are basic maintenance and replenishment when the food is sold out. The locker automatically detects the types of food that are out of stock, and trigger a notification for replenishment in the system.

Moreover, the smart locker is customer-friendly. The customers can shop “as if they are opening up their own refrigerator”. The AI system in the locker detects the quantity of food that is taken, and automatically checks out when the customer closes the door.

Lastly, the smart locker operates 24/7, and the internal ventilation system keeps the fresh food at the most appropriate temperature and disinfect regularly to keep the food fresh and clean.

This type of fresh food smart lockers has received very positive customer feedback, and has proven to garner customer loyalty. More and more fresh food businesses in China are experimenting with this type of machine.

Smart Lockers are Allowing for Many New Business Opportunities

As sharable chargers gained popularity in China, the development of smart lockers gave rise to a whole array of business opportunities based on the idea of “sharable”. In Guangzhou, sharable electric cars for children through smart lockers are available in many public areas where families gather.



The sharable electric cars for children are locked in smart lockers that provides sanitization. When parents scan QR codes and rent the cars for their kids, the locker will pop open. The cars are waterproof and sunscreen, which requires little maintenance costs or staffing. With the built-in colorful dazzling lights, children and their parents are quickly attracted to the products and enjoy a sweet family moment with electric cars that are burdensome and expensive if they were to be purchased.

The safety and quality of cars are still concerns of many parents. However, this business model attracted many young entrepreneurs because of the ease of market entry, low costs, and automatic delivery of service.



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