Richard Liu said that he hopes one day his company (JD.com) would be completely automated, meaning no humans but just robots and AI.
He revealed this goal in a recently released interview conducted at the World Retail Congress, which was held in Madrid.
Liu, 44 years old, is well-known for being the chief executive officer, founder, and chairperson of JD.com.
The company prides itself on being the largest retailer in all of China in terms of revenue. It also ranks among the top three e-commerce entities across the globe.
With a revenue of $55.7 billion as of last year, JD would have been slightly outside the top 10 retailers in the US if it was ranked alongside all of them.
Looking at such statistics, it is clear that JD is a top player in e-commerce. Even so, the company appears to be highly interested in robotics and AI.
In fact, it is putting aside $4.5 billion to develop an artificial intelligence (AI) center that will be located in Guandong province.
The company has also created its JD-X robotics research hub based in Silicon Valley and headed by the Amazon Go’s ex-senior research manager.
JD envisions a retail process that will be free from human operators. When a customer buys an item, a robot will pick the order in a “people-free warehouse”, according to Liu, which will then be delivered through a self-driving vehicle or drone within 30 minutes.
Customers will access their packages through facial recognition. Additionally, AI technology would be used in managing the price of products and inventory in a more efficient way than humans.
Currently, JD is testing robot delivery through campus couriers in several universities located in Beijing. The company is also planning to create 200 drone airports in Southwest China.
JD also has an idea of how technology will reshape physical retail. After shoppers enter a store and pick what they want, the payment would be processed through biometrics (facial recognition).
A similar interface is being tried out at JD’s Beijing headquarters. What’s more, the company has already unveiled a new supermarket concept whereby humans do not need to push around shopping carts. Instead, robot shopping carts follow customers around the store.
According to Richard Liu, the company’s people – free future only applies to the boring tasks, which will be tackled by AI and robotics.
JD would still require staff but in a smaller number compared to the current size. The company has more than 160,000 full-time employees but hopes the number will be less than 80,000 in the next decade.
In turn, people would be paid more for less work, which would be less dangerous and more fun.
JD is not the only company experimenting with and embracing robotics and AI. Walmart is currently testing its shelf-scanning robots while Lowe already has its Lowebots, which act as store navigators and greeters.
With all the major retailers like Alibaba, Amazon, and JD rolling out different projects, there appears to be an ongoing stiff competition to build technology that will shape the future of retail.