Here at Polestar, we’ve covered a topics on how AI and other forms of technology is being used in manufacturing, healthcare, and education. A topic we haven’t covered on our blog yet is technology in supermarket stores.
As I went through my usual routine of scrolling through my Twitter feed in the morning, I saw an article on how Amazon is revolutionising supermarkets with its tech focus. As I was reading the article, it got me thinking of how technology is taking over every aspect of our lives, even a weekend trip to the local store. Although it may be a while before we see robots walking around the aisles of our local Tesco, these technological innovations are definitely pointing us in that direction.
Here are some creative ways AI and tech is being used in supermarkets around the world:
Amazon’s cashierless checkout includes a “Just Walk Out” strategy which allows customers to skip the checkout line by tracking any items they grab and charging them when they leave. Its new store in Brookfield, Connecticut is rumored to feature this technology in its planning documents. Amazon Go plans to open 10 UK stores without checkouts for paying.
The store will feature gated entry and exit lanes at the front of the store, where shoppers would presumably scan an app or credit card as they come in, as well as hardware to potentially house ceiling-mounted cameras that track which items shoppers pick up in the store.
In the UK, Aldi is developing its own form of technology in rival with Amazon. The Aldi technology is an automatic product recognition, specifically used through in-store cameras, shopping cart sensors or via users’ smartphones. Aldi first tested a completely cashless store in 2018, but is yet to roll it out on a wider scale.
Palm-scanning payment system
Amazon is introducing a palm-scanning payment system into a Whole Foods store in Seattle, Washington. This form is technology allows shoppers to pay for items by placing their palm over a scanning device. The first time shoppers use the kiosk, they have to insert a credit card to link it with their palm print. But after that, shoppers can pay simply by holding their hand over the kiosk.
Amazon has said it hopes to sell the palm-scanning technology to other companies like retailers, stadiums and office buildings, but the technology is only available right now in Amazon stores and Whole Foods.
Scan pay go
Sainsbury’s is showcasing a scan & go technology called Sainsbury’s SmartShop. This technology allows customers to use a retailer’s mobile device or run the app on their own mobile to scan and bag products as they shop in store. Sainsbury’s promoted this technology as a way during the pandemic to reduce staff interaction, avoid contact with other shoppers, decrease shopping time, and reduce queues at checkout.
Other UK supermarkets have also used this technology during pandemic times. Asda has made mobile scan & go available in all of its almost 600 stores, M&S has doubled the number of stores offering “Mobile Pay Go” to over 100, and Tesco has “Scan as You Shop” available in almost 600 large-format stores.
Robot powered warehouses
During the pandemic, demand increased in grocery stores as most other business were shut down. Delivery firm Ocado used robot-powered warehouses to keep up with online orders when its human workforce were under pressure during the pandemic The robots pick up food and brought them to a human who then packed groceries.
The company owns hundreds of patents which cover a range of automation and technologies from product-picking robots to item scanners that members of staff can wear on their heads. Because of the success in the pandemic, Ocado plans to use this technology on a wider scale and lease it to other supermarkets.
Ocado isn’t the only one using robots. Tesco plans to open 25 highly automated urban fulfilment centers by 2022, as consumer preferences have now shifted to online shopping. Tesco plans on using automation to improve picking efficiency by a factor of two or three.
Robots which clean
If there is one thing the pandemic has taught us, it’s the importance of sanitation and regular cleaning in public areas. Asda was the first UK supermarket to feature autonomous cleaning robots to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The robots were used as an automated trolley wash and as riding machines.
If not cleaning and scanning people out, robots can also be used for policing. Sainsbury’s and ThirdEye have partnered together to test out a new concealment detector technology. The technology uses machine learning to detect when someone takes an item and places it in their pocket or coat. The system also records the interaction to alert security staff.
During a recent trial of this technology, the system has helped prevent almost 6,000 thefts in 20 stores between September 2019 to March 2020.
Technology being used in grocery stores is will make our regular shopping more efficient and the stores more profitable. Ocado has been busy buying AI businesses in the states and we are seeing a surge in interest in equity housed looking to invest in the sector. So this is a great time to be building your business services firm if it supplies into the supermarkets.
Supermarket brands have been among the few winners during the difficult times of the Covid-19 crisis. To keep up with fast-changing government regulations and consumer expectations, they have had to transform their business models, quickly.