New Zealand retailer to trial AI shopping solution

A Four Square store in Auckland will trial SmartCart, a computer-vision technology retrofitted to shopping baskets and carts that recognises products as soon as they are placed inside – eliminating the need for barcode scanning, checkouts and queuing.

Behind the technology is New Zealand-based artificial-intelligence (AI) company IMAGR, which announced the trial and says retailers around the globe are looking for ways to give consumers more streamlined methods and checkout-less options for shopping, citing the recent launch of Amazon Go in Seattle.

“This is the first significant step in enhancing the way we do our shopping here in New Zealand and abroad,” IMAGR founder William Chomley said. “It’s great to see [Four Square parent company] Foodstuffs embracing technology like this to empower customer experiences.”

To activate SmartCart, shoppers download an app and link a payment method to their account. In-store, they pair their smartphone with the shopping trolley or basket, and as they add products to their cart the items are recognised and appear in their phone’s virtual basket.

In addition to identifying products, SmartCart applies machine-learning technology to identify the patterns in a customer’s behaviour and make suggestions for recipes, as well as guiding users around the store based on their product choices.

SmartCart can also help retailers with inventory management, cost reduction and analytics, and IMAGR is also working on effective ways to deliver tailored promotions to customers as they shop.

The technology is the brainchild of Mr Chomley, who began conceptualising a solution two years ago to improve convenience and help eliminate the frustration that comes with queuing at a supermarket checkout. Since then, IMAGR has grown to a team of 12, with AI specialists from around the world working on the technology from its Auckland headquarters.

Foodstuffs North Island Chief Information Officer Peter Muggleston says bricks-and-mortar retailers must embrace AI technologies to enhance consumer experiences and ensure they lead the field in what they offer, adding that Foodstuffs’ decision to work with IMAGR is one that will take the co-op’s offering to the next level.

“We’re committed to giving Kiwi shoppers the best service, experiences and innovation,” he said. “This technology will give consumers more options, reduced wait times and variety during their store visits, giving our staff more time to offer their advice and help in other ways.”

The SmartCart trial will be conducted at the Ellerslie Four Square site in Auckland,  which was named ‘store of the year’ in the 2017 Foodstuffs North Island Co-op awards.

While Foodstuffs is the first FMCG retailer in the region to pilot SmartCart, momentum is building globally, with IMAGR in talks with retailers in Australia, Europe and the US, aiming for significant user adoption at three of the world’s leading retailers by 2022.

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