As part of a pilot program to explore the possible future use of grab-and-go shopping technology, Wakefern Food Corp. launched an artificial intelligence-powered convenience store at its corporate offices in Edison. About a year after the nation’s largest retailer-owned grocery cooperative announced plans to partner with Trigo, an Israeli-based autonomous checkout technology developer, Wakefern officially opened the doors of its cashier-less, on-campus shop Jan. 17.
Called “The Pantry,” the store provides Wakefern associates with the ability to use Trigo’s frictionless checkout solution for a “walk in, walk out” shopping experience. The technology, which is paired with a mobile app linked to employees’ ShopRite Price Plus account, relies on a series of cameras and shelf sensors that identify products selected by associates, allowing them to move through the store seamlessly and skip the checkout line entirely.
According to Charles McWeeney, vice president of technology, innovation and strategy at Wakefern, the shop will serve as a learning environment, helping the company understand frictionless technology and how best to use it in the supermarket landscape.
After noting that there is no “fixed timeline” for the trial period, McWeeney went on to say Wakefern is “in the early stages of planning for potential expansion” but that as of now there are no plans to roll out the technology across all stores.
“We know that frictionless checkout technology is being used in smaller formats to create a store within a store or convenience markets and we hope to learn more about the technology as our associates shop The Pantry,” he said.
“While we think this technology can be used by all shoppers, the initial focus is on convenience shopping trips for customers who want to grab items and go quickly,” McWeeney said.
As the first company in the U.S. to partner with Trigo, McWeeney said the co-op is excited to test the AI-based computer vision solution.
“Our Wakefern associates can shop The Pantry at work for groceries they need at home while simultaneously providing helpful feedback for us on the technology,” he said. “The chance to evolve in the self-service space at retail is important and we hope to learn more about frictionless checkout and how we can potentially provide this cutting-edge and convenient technology to Wakefern member-owned businesses.”
Trigo was founded in 2018 and its technology has already been deployed by leading grocery chains in the U.K. (Tesco), Germany (Rewe and Netto), The Netherlands (Aldi Nordi) and Israel (Shufersal).
When integrated with a retailer’s mobile app, Trigo’s advanced retail automation platform applies proprietary algorithms to ceiling-mounted cameras and shelf censors that track and analyze anonymized data on a shopper’s trip through the store and their product choices, ensuring a frictionless checkout experience. According to Trigo, the technology does not use facial recognition, does not scan eyes, fingerprints or any other biometric features and does not hold any direct identifiers of shoppers.
Trigo also works closely with retailers to convert existing stores while maintaining their unique character and layout and leveraging physical grocery scale to roll out next-generation offerings securely.
“It has evolved with several different sizes and formats in which the technology is being implemented,” said Shay Ziv, vice president of marketing at Trigo, noting, “We’re the only company that truly supports almost all retailer formats in the market, from convenience stores to discounters and supermarkets. Soon, we will also support the hypermarket format, meaning large supermarkets between 3,000-4,000 square meters.”
“On top of the physical infrastructure, Trigo is developing an AI-powered, real-time inventory management system called EasyStock, which allows retailers to do things like track inventory in real time, minimize out-of-stock items for in-store and online shopping, and limit shoplifting,” Ziv added.
Frictionless shopping, also called seamless or cashier-less shopping, is gaining traction globally as retailers try to match consumer expectations for convenience and personalization while keeping costs down and optimizing inventory and supply chain management.
In the U.S., Amazon has popularized the concept through its “Just Walk Out” technology, which debuted in the e-commerce giant’s Amazon Go convenience stores and was then expanded to Amazon Fresh supermarkets and the company’s Whole Foods Market subsidiary.
Other grocery retailers across the country have also adopted checkout-free technology, including Ahold Delhaize, through its Lunchbox solution, and Giant Eagle, which uses a platform developed by Berkeley, Calif.-based Grabango.
Juniper Research estimates that by 2025, smart checkout technology will process nearly $400 billion in transactions. The report also found that, while the growth in adoption is dramatic, innovation will be limited to the convenience segment, where product lines are simpler and implementation costs are lower. It also noted rollouts would likely be limited to larger retail chains that can afford the significant investment costs involved.
In addition to remedying the top complaint among grocery shoppers – waiting in the checkout line – the technology introduced a fresh experience for consumers and offers personalized, targeting messaging for goods and services that may interest them.
Computer vision is also changing the way physical retail operates and aims to help retailers solve long-standing pain points, such as the manual stock-taking and replenishment processes, shrinkage (misplaced or stolen products) and minimizing waste, where perishable and other expired products need to be discarded.
The technology can also address other pain points such as a tight labor market, supply chain disruption and a tough macroeconomic climate, Ziv said.
Especially in periods of high inflation, rising prices and supply chain disruptions, Trigo believes the value of managing inventory and procurement becomes even more important and that improving out-of-stocks, even by half, could boost a retailer’s net income by 18%.
Wakefern, which is made up of nearly 50 member companies that own and operate 365 stores under the ShopRite, Price Rite Marketplace, The Fresh Grocer, Fairway Market and Gourmet Garage banners, is “using artificial intelligence technology to level the playing field between smaller, family-run grocers and large chain supermarkets,” Ziv explained.
“The move is part of a wider effort by Wakefern and other global grocery retailers to introduce innovations that increase efficiency and reduce costs in the grocery retail sector hit by supply chain disruptions, inflation, and cost of living increases, as well as a deepening labor shortage throughout the food industry supply chain,” he said. “By helping Wakefern convert some store formats or develop new ones that are exclusive to their brands, we can help them accelerate their growth within the market and pave the way for frictionless shopping in the future.”
For Wakefern, the pilot with Trigo is the latest move to infuse more tech into the supermarket.
“Wakefern is always exploring and deploying technology it believes will enhance the shopping experience,” McWeeney said. “We know, for example, that some AI tools can help us more precisely track inventory and replenishment needs to ensure that we have the right product in the right store at the right time. We are always looking for ways to leverage our knowledge as grocers with technology to provide the best shopping experience for customers.”
Many stores in the co-op are using mobile scan, which allows shoppers to scan groceries with their smart phone, and experimenting with smart shopping carts as well as expanding and improving self-checkout terminals, he said.
“But we also understand that this is a people business. We embrace technology that helps our customers have a better shopping experience but also understand the importance of personal service. We use technology that helps both customers and associates and allows our teams to spend more time with our customers,” McWeeney explained.
When it comes to grab-and-go shopping tech, the experience varies, according to research from the Queensland University of Technology in Australia.
For customers who want to pop into the store, grab what they need and get out, the technology is ideal because it reduces “pragmatic and social interactions components” of a shopping trip that may slow them down, such as the traditional checkout process, and “enables the perception of a more efficient experience overall,” the researchers found.
But, for those shoppers who enjoy engaging with others in the store, frictionless checkout and the perceived “lack of human interaction impacted their emotional journey of their grocery experience,” causing them to view the technology negatively.
Ziv said, “It’s no secret that consumer shopping habits and expectations are changing. All very new innovations, when they reach the general public, usually need some adjustment time. There is no doubt however that frictionless checkout is being adopted on a broader scale, and there is proof of this ranging from The Netherlands, Germany, the U.K., the U.S. and further afield in Asia, each with its unique adjustment period relative to the local population.”
After noting that Trigo and its partners are continuing to work on “more payment integrations that should make the experience even easier for people,” Ziv said, “Overall, once both customers and retailers experience the convenience and efficiency of frictionless checkout, it’s hard to justify going back to waiting in lines, and we are seeing this more and more.”
A newly released survey conducted by market research firm YouGov on behalf of Chain Store Age found that customers see frictionless shopping as a means to speed up the experience mainly because they do not have to wait in line.
About 69% of respondents said, to the best of their knowledge, no supermarkets they currently shop at offer the technology, while 10% said “at least some” grocery stores have it and 20% said they don’t know.
Though the majority said they would not use the offering if it was available for grocery shopping (37%) or were unsure if they would (33%), industry experts believe that’s because consumers are still unfamiliar with the technology or may be uncomfortable with the notion of “just walking out.”
When it comes to drawbacks of the technology, the top concerns expressed were loss of store associate jobs (51%) and data protection concerns (33%), the analysis found.
Another survey revealed that consumers are, overall, open to the frictionless shopping experience when they are at sporting and entertainment events because it lets them pre-order food and drinks to avoid lines.