Turning Parking Spaces Into Grocery Stores

The Moby Mart is an autonomous, staffless, mobile store, turning every parking space in the world into a potential new 24-hour store.

Is retail dead, or merely evolving? Hannah and Tomas Mazetti of Wheelys Café think the latter. Born from a Y Combinator startup, the Mazett’s have invented Moby Mart- an autonomous unmanned store on wheels. This is a store that comes to the customers instead of the other way around. Always available, everywhere.

By putting the store on wheels retailers can avoid the increasingly high rental prices in many cities. Instead of leasing a brick-and-mortar store they can patrol the bus in the center during the busy hours, stopping for customers by the sidewalk. This turns every parking space in the world into a potential new 24-hour store. What makes the Moby concept truly disruptive is the fact that contrary to other stores, Moby can be mass produced, without the limitations of real estate. “The biggest costs in retail are staff, restocking and rent,” notes Moby CEO Per Cromwell. “A Moby cuts all these costs. Since the delivery truck IS the store, there is no need for restocking. Any parking space will be a store. Finally, the a Moby is totally staffless. What does this mean? It means that we can bring world class stores to tens of thousands of communities- where before there was none.”

Image: Moby Mart

The Moby Mart can also drive from a commercial area during the day to a residential area during evenings and restock in a central location during the night. Or it can move from village to village to aggregate the customer base, making even the smallest of places viable for a store. It is, of course, electric to reduce both sound and air pollution. Customers use an app to locate and enter the store, scan the items they want to buy and pay with a click. But unlike the fixed retail spaces, the Moby Mart can come to the customer if they call it over through the app.

Image: Moby Mart

“The notion that physical retail will disappear is nonsense,” says Hannah Mazetti, inventor Moby Mart. “The traditional store is really nothing but a logistics hub for deliveries of physical goods, where the consumer carries the logistics costs. People will always want to buy ice-cream at the corner store. You might replace the store with some dude driving the ice-cream to your door, but even then, it is all about logistics.” A Moby sells stuff for immediate consumption, like coffee, food and other things, while delivering other stuff from Web Merchants. Mazetti continues, “Traditional stores make sense for products that are sold to settle an immediate want, like ice-cream, a pizza or even an iPhone charger; but less so for products that are sold less often, like rare books. The Moby sells the ice-cream, but it also delivers the rare book. It is the first store adapted for the Internet age.” Some big names have bought into the concept. The parent company Wheelys has been funded by, among others, Paul Buchheit (creator of Gmail), Jared Friedman (founder of Scribd), and Justin Waldron (co-founder of Zynga).

Image: Moby Mart

The first version of the bus is deployed in Shanghai, China where it will run in test mode during the summer, starting today. In the autumn, more buses will be created with an updated tech portfolio to further push the retailing experience. The bus will be ready for entrepreneurs around the world when self-driving solutions become legal. The solution is built by Wheelys Inc in cooperation with Hefei University and Himalafy. Wheelys has quickly turned into a technology leader in the hot unstaffed retailing space. By acquiring the first-to-market company Näraffär and then debuting the first 24/7 store in China, Wheelys are pushing the boundaries forward in a lightning fast pace. Robert Illijason, founder of Näraffär and Himalafy believes that Moby is a sign of things to come for retail saying, “This is a huge leap closer to my original vision of retailing for everyone, everywhere.” Cromwell agrees, “In the coming decades, retail as we know it will disappear. Stores will become powered by apps, they will become accessible 24/7, and they will become mobile.”