Self-service stations to replace cafes and shops

The first OmniHub all-in-one self-service stations have been installed in Moscow – a RUR 170 mio ($2.4 mio) project implemented and financed by Omnic, an independent international company. A self-service point is a combination of an automated parcel terminal and a vending machine, the synergy greatly expanding each service’s functionality.

The idea was generated by one of the managers at Omnic as he was studying for an MBA at the business school of the University of California, Berkeley, in the United States. His management thought the idea seemed interesting, and eventually it grew into a large commercial project supported by Sutardja Center for Entrepreneurship & Technology at the UC Berkeley.

“We created OmniHub in order to combine several high-quality self-service functions in one ecosystem. The solution, as always, was kind of obvious – it is just so logical to cut out the delivery man and save time, our most precious resource, as well as avoid social contact, which is especially important due to the COVID-19 situation. According to our estimates, an all-in-one self-service point can save an active user up to 120 hours a year,” Artur Grigoryants, Chief Digital Transformation Officer at Omnic, told Invest Foresight.

The facility offers snacks and drinks (as a regular vending machine) and can be used to pick up an order made online (as from a regular parcel locker).

There are still some pleasant surprises. One of the know-hows is heating and cooling modules, which makes it possible to get grocery orders or deliveries from cafes and restaurants via a self-service station. Meat, fish and vegetables will not go bad on cooled shelves while pizza, hamburgers or pilaf will stay warm in heated lockers. This feature will be convenient to those who, for example, want to order lunch or snacks to an office and eat at their desks.

OmniHub can also be a free courier if you want to use dry cleaning or shoe repair services. How does it work?

Let’s assume you decided to dry-clean a business suit. You go to a dry cleaner’s website, place your order, pay for it using a payment terminal or a mobile app, put your clothes in a locker and then pick up your order from the same place. You don’t have to interact with delivery or dry cleaner’s staff.

You also don’t pay anything extra. If dry-cleaning a suit costs RUR 800 ($11.7) you will pay exactly RUR 800 when placing your order via a self-service station. The partner service (in this case, a dry cleaner’s business) will cover courier expenses.

Where would it be reasonable to install self-service stations? In large residential complexes, business centers, hotels, co-working facilities and fitness clubs.   

Experts at Omnic and the University of California who did project research believe that the ‘omnihubs’ will be popular for their convenience, speed and time saving options. If you have a self-service station in your building or office, you can receive orders from stores and restaurants, and give items for repair or cleaning without having to leave the building.

Like vending machines, self-service stations are purchased by the customer (for instance, the owner of a business center), while the manufacturer (Omnic) provides maintenance and warranty services.

The cost of one OmniHub module begins with RUR 70K ($1K). The investment, according to company experts, will pay off in two years.

Several months ago, the company began installing such stations in Hamburg, Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York. The self-service stations have recently reached Moscow: they can be found in some business centers and Perekrestok stores. Among OmniHub partners are over 50 offline stores, cafes, restaurants, various services, as well as logistics companies that provide delivery for over 30K online retailers. The developers are going to expand the circle of partners in order to offer as many services as possible to their clients.

Today, this solution is unparalleled and highly prospective, according to Omnic representatives. By the end of the year, the company plans to install 300 OmniHub self-service stations in Russia and over 2,000 modules across the world. Such machines are of interest to customers, with preorders made for 40% of stations.

Only time will tell whether OmniHub stations will be popular among users and bring profit to their owners. One thing is clear though: the new and ambitious self-service machines have now joined the friendly team of ATMs (the first cash machine was put into use in London in 1967; in Russia, first ATMs were installed at World Trade Center Moscow in 1991), automated parcel delivery terminals (such terminals started operating in Germany in 2001, while Russian Post launched first test terminals in 2011), and milk vending machines (in Russia, they were first put into use in 2008; today, along with milk, such machines also provide a wide range of fermented dairy products such as fermented baked milk, quark, kefir, and sour cream).

By Natalia Sysoyeva

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