YINCHUAN, July 15 (Xinhua) -- Zhu Qijin, 60, scanned a QR code with her mobile phone and the windows of a refrigerated unit opened, allowing her to choose from neatly packed cherry tomatoes, corns, peeled onions, etc.
After the door closed, around 10 yuan (1.4 U.S. dollars) is automatically deducted from her payment account tied to Alipay or WeChat Pay.
Thanks to the self-service vending machines newly installed in her residential community, Zhu and her husband do not need to get up early and thrust their way into morning markets kilometers away from home.
"We never expected that fruits and vegetables would be sold in vending machines. They are clean and fresh, and it's convenient to use," said Zhu.
The screen beside the machine displays the real-time video of how the fruits and vegetables are picked from farmland, trimmed and washed. "I feel assured about the food safety," she said.
Zhu's community is among a few residential compounds in Yinchuan, capital of northwest China's Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, that have installed the fruits and veggie vending machines since June.
Yinchuan is one of China's pilot "smart cities," trying to effectively apply technologies in city administration, public security, transportation, health care and environmental protection for better services.
Automated parcel lockers, smart dustbins, face-recognition access control as well as air-and-noise monitoring systems can be seen in more and more residential areas in the landlocked city.
"The self-help vending machines can dispense more than 50 varieties of fruits and vegetables, and our staff will replenish the shelves once every two days to make sure the products are fresh," said Chen Yujie, initiator of the concept.
Chen said these fruits and vegetables are delivered directly from the plantation bases, so their price is 15 percent to 20 percent lower than that of similar products in the supermarkets.
The idea of introducing fruits and veggie vending machines in Yinchuan popped into her head when she was under home quarantine during the COVID-19 epidemic.
She bought fruits and vegetables online but usually found them not fresh enough. If there were a "contactless" shopping store near home that could allow customers to see the products before paying, it would be perfect, she thought.
Chen, also the general manager of a local company, discussed the idea with her colleagues and decided to promote the machines in densely populated residential communities initially.
So far, these machines have been installed in five residential compounds. But Chen's company has a bigger ambition -- covering 85 percent of Yinchuan communities in the next three years.
New consumption and retail models have emerged from China's "contactless" economy amid its battle against COVID-19, and rapid growth of internet technology and prevalence of mobile payment make such models accessible for more people.
"Although such vending machines are rarely seen nationwide, the new consumption pattern will gain growing popularity among residents as long as we can ensure good quality and a favorable price for the products," Chen said.
Chen and her team have also joined the local government's poverty alleviation program. Farm produce from poverty-stricken areas in Ningxia and southwest China's Guizhou Province will be put on the shelves in the near future.
"We provide good products for citizens and help poor farmers sell what they sow. It is a win-win deal," said Chen. Enditem