At Boxy, the autonomous convenience store that wants to revolutionize local commerce

Meet at the river port of Genevilliers, north of Paris. In August 2020, the startup Boxy chose this industrial area, where trucks and workers parade, to install its first autonomous minimarket with the same name. The concept is surprising: the Boxy is a vibrant red container measuring 25 square meters, with a fully glazed facade, without employees. This unattractive format has the merit of allowing the young shoot to settle easily and quickly in areas with few stores, its main target. “We want to recreate local use for a whole portion of the population that doesn’t have it.“, explains the gallery David Gabai, one of the two co-founders of Boxy.

Thus, more than 30 container-convenience stores have already been deposited in various municipalities of the Île-de-France such as Saint-Maurice-Montcouronne (91), Beauchamp (95) or even Mareuil-les-Meaux (77). The startup continues to deploy them at the average rate of one per week, but plans to accelerate very soon. Thanks to a Series A fundraiser of €25 million in February 2022, Boxy has launched a plan to install 500 stores by the end of 2023, with a target of 1,000 on the horizon. 2025. From next year, it will be deployed in Auvergne-Rhônes-Alpes and Hauts-de-France.

A convenience store with no human interaction

To join Boxy, you need to download the startup app, then create an account by entering your phone number, first name, last name, email and credit card information. After this step, the application generates a QR Code that will serve as our badge to enter the convenience store.

Inside the container, 10 cameras follow our movements, while weight sensors placed on the shelves detect which products we carry. Once we’ve grabbed a bottle of water and a juice briquette, we press a button to exit through a second door and within a minute the bill arrives on our app. We made our purchases without human contact and without withdrawing our bank card. The main advantage of this fully automated system? Allows Boxy to be open 7 days a week and 24 hours a day.

In its convenience stores, the startup offers a total of 250 product references, but the selection varies according to the location of the container and the needs of customers. At Genevilliers, customers are mainly port workers. Thus, the supermarket mainly offers consumer products for meals of the day, appetizers and snacks, as a kind of giant distributor. In villages, the contents of Boxy will be very similar to that of an extra grocery store, in order to allow the customer to avoid a trip to the local hypermarket.

A “hub” operation to find profitability

The real challenge when setting up a store is the adoption period: Boxy must be known as soon as possible and word of mouth among customers must work, to reach the critical size in terms of transactions per day.“, presents David Gabai. The startup takes between 6 and 12 months to test the profitability of a location, before changing it. The container format allows minimizing the risks of an installation, since the change of the convenience is easily and cheap.”In small villages, we noticed that Boxys only worked if there was a flow generator such as a school or gym nearby.“, specifies the co-founder.

The startup is taking advantage of the savings offered by its concept over traditional convenience stores to reach a currently deserted market. “About 50% of French people do not have a convenience store within 5 minutes. And for good reason: traditional commerce will hardly survive if it earns less than 10,000 euros a month.“, says David Gabai. Boxy costs less than a traditional location, and can be installed in areas where there are no commercial locations available. It is an opportunistic approach: the startup installs itself where there is no competition.

The start-up’s managers thought of their profitability from a system of “cube“, logistics centers around which mini-markets operate.”In France, we have identified around ten hubs and we want to open around one hundred stores per hub.. It is the Boxy mass that will allow us to amortize fixed costs at the hub level and optimize deliveries“, projects the entrepreneur.

Make Boxy “unbreakable”

Today, the startup employs around fifty employees, a workforce that is expected to double by the end of the year to support both the development of its technology (application, sensors, customer journey, etc.), etc.).

The company chose to control its entire value chain, from warehouse to delivery, including software. “This vertical approach allows us to accumulate as much data as possible and compress our experience curve.“, defends David Gabai. That is, even if the startup has launched more slowly, this total control allows you to optimize your logistics faster and get to know your customers better.”Even if in a few years a company invests millions of euros to implement in our market, it will not be able to buy this experience curve. With the net effect, the Boxy will already be entrenched“, projects the co-founder.