I visited Singtel’s 24-hour unmanned store – here’s what it’s like inside UNBOXED, where a robot uses facial recognition to identify you

Singtel’s “next-generation” pop-up retail store UNBOXED boasts a portable design and smart technologies that allow it to be completely unmanned.
Business Insider / Jonathan Loh

Ever needed to replace a faulty SIM card or phone in the wee hours of the night but had to wait until business hours because the stores were closed?

Singtel customers may not need to worry about such a conundrum, after the telco launched UNBOXED, a 24-hour unmanned pop-up store touted as one that brings a “next-generation retail experience”.

According to Singtel, the store – which was first launched on June 4 – is decked with intelligent facilities that allow customers to use the telco’s various services at any time, from signing up for a new contract plan to buying phone accessories, all without the need for any staff to be physically present.

In addition, its modular and portable design enables the entire pop-up store to be moved to different locations to engage customers across the island.

While unmanned stores are not new, UNBOXED is undoubtedly one of Singtel’s most intriguing offerings so far.

Business Insider paid the store a visit to find out if it really delivers on the hype.

Here’s what it was like:


UNBOXED is currently located in the central business district at 20 Pickering Street. The store’s quaint smartphone-shaped design and vibrant LED screens make it stand out on the city street and is certainly hard to miss.

Business Insider / Jonathan Loh

Business Insider / Jonathan Loh

The first thing to greet you as you step inside might be the store’s roving “Live Bot”, which has an actual Singtel service staff member on screen – not an AI or chatbot – to guide you around the place and answer your questions.

The Live Bot uses facial recognition to identify if you’re an existing Singtel customer, allowing the assistant to offer a more “personalised” experience.

Business Insider / Jonathan Loh

The small platform behind the Live Bot is actually a wireless charging mat for you to charge your smartphone on as you shop in the store.

Business Insider / Jonathan Loh

If you’re interested in buying a new smartphone, you will be guided to the “Latest Gadgets” section where there are devices on display as with regular brick-and-mortar Singtel outlets.

Unlike regular outlets, camera and motion sensors at this section detect where you are standing. The large-screen display in front will then show relevant information such as a device’s specifications and price comparisons when you pick it up for browsing.

Business Insider / Jonathan Loh

Up to six devices can be picked up and for a side-by-side comparison on this screen, so you won’t need to worry about inconveniently hogging the display.

Business Insider / Jonathan Loh

Business Insider / Jonathan Loh

Devices can be purchased and reserved for in-store collection by simply scanning the QR codes on the display stands or by using UNBOXED’s video-assisted self-serve kiosks.

Apart from purchases, these kiosks provide other services such as applying for mobile plans or re-contracts, SIM card replacements, making bill payments, changing a billing address as well as performing prepaid or Dash (mobile wallet) top-ups.

Business Insider / Jonathan Loh
Business Insider / Jonathan Loh

The video-assisted self-serve kiosks are also equipped with facial-recognition technology that allows the kiosk to welcome registered Singtel customers by name.

Its integrated recommendations engine adds an extra touch of personalisation to the customer experience.

The kiosk also comes with the option to connect with a customer service agent via real-time video chat for assistance. Depending on your profile, the staff may recommend certain packages to help you customise your mobile plans.

Business Insider / Jonathan Loh

After confirming a purchase, your next stop will be POPStation @ UNBOXED.

For the unacquainted, POPStations are parcel self-collection lockers managed by SingPost.

What makes this one special is that it’s the first in Singapore to feature dynamic pre-filling capability. This means that popular products will be selectively replenished based on Singtel’s “forecasts” to ensure availability when a customer wants to purchase them.

This particular POPStation features an eye-catching (and somewhat trippy) design by local artist Soh Ee Shaun, who created the artwork as an interpretation of what the future of digital disruption could look like.

Business Insider / Jonathan Loh

You will need to key in the collection PIN sent to your email or phone at the POPStation kiosk before you can collect your purchased device.

A locker number will be given and its respective locker can then be opened to pick up the item.

Business Insider / Jonathan Loh

If you are interested in buying accessories such as smartphone cases or headphones, the store has an “accessories wall” right next to the POPStation where you can browse items before making a purchase.

Other items available here include contract-free mobile phones and power banks.

The accessories wall boasts a “phygital” concept that allows you to pick up any of the items for a feel so you can find out if you look good with the accessory or whether the device is comfortable to use.

Business Insider / Jonathan Loh

The accessories wall has its own kiosk for digital browsing and selecting the item you want to buy.

Purchases can be made using cashless payment modes including Dash mobile wallet, which requires a QR code to be scanned. Once done, you can collect the item from the vending machine-like slot at the bottom within moments.

Business Insider / Jonathan Loh

Business Insider / Jonathan Loh

You might be wondering how a completely unmanned pop-up store can be protected against crimes such as theft and vandalism when there’s seemingly no security around.

Well, you’ll be surprised.

A “Sentinel” security system implemented by information technology company NCS allows UNBOXED to be watched under 24/7 remote surveillance with automated security control through 15 Internet-of-Things sensors and 13 surveillance cameras.

Business Insider / Jonathan Loh

Motion sensors fitted around the store also track the number of people inside to prevent overcrowding by only allowing the door to be opened from the inside.

Business Insider / Jonathan Loh

If a person takes an item from the accessories wall with an intention to steal, sensors that track the proximity of the item from the wall will trigger an alarm if it is beyond a certain distance.

The exit will be locked to keep the perpetrator in and the service agent on the Live Bot will direct him or her on the appropriate course of action.

In the event of an emergency, customers can use the intercom near the exit to communicate with security personnel.

Business Insider / Jonathan Loh

The central security office, alerted of the crime or emergency, will send its security personnel to handle the situation according to standard operating procedures shown on the dashboard at the smartphone display section.

Business Insider / Jonathan Loh

Apart from its “completely unmanned” aspect, the other most significant feature about UNBOXED would certainly be its “flexibility” and modular capability.

Designed with an extendable module, the store is able to change from its “compact mode” (35 sqm) to an “expanded mode” (45 sqm) for extra space to accommodate more customers.

Business Insider / Jonathan Loh

When the store needs to be moved to a different location, the extendable module is simply retracted and the entire pop-up can be lifted onto a container truck for transportation.

Here’s what it looks like from the inside.

Business Insider / Jonathan Loh

UNBOXED’s novelty factor as a pop-up store that meshes smart technologies with the familiar brick-and-mortar store experience is certainly its biggest draw and one that should be well-received by tech-savvy customers.

Even if you’re not a Singtel user, you might want to consider paying the store a visit just for the fun of it.

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