Will AI save us from long queue is stores?
Who hasn’t already had the painful experience of queuing for hours in a shop? Having to wait for their turn at the cash register in shops reduces customer satisfaction, as they are slowed down in their purchasing processes. It is often impossible to increase the number of cash registers in stores, mainly because of a lack of space, human or financial resources. One of the solutions that has been in great demand in recent years to solve the problem has been the installation of automatic cash registers. However, while they increase the number of cash registers without having to use more cashiers, they do not really solve the problem of queues because customers still have to scan their items and make the payment themselves, and these activities still take time.
Wouldn’t the solution be to completely eliminate the cash registers in order to create a fluid customer experience with a free-flow check-out system? In order to do that, it is necessary to be able to automate three tasks: item recognition, customer identification, and payment. Thanks to visual recognition, we can partially meet the first two tasks, and several companies have already implemented such a system.
The Amazon Go self-service supermarket in Seattle.
It is the case, for example, of Amazon Go : the first “connected” supermarket without cash registers that opened in Seattle in 2018. The concept is simple. Thanks to cameras and weight sensors placed in the shelves, the system is able to know which person has taken which product. Customers simply scan their Amazon Go application when they enter the store, do their shopping and then leave the premises with no cash register or queue, they simply go through gates that trigger invoicing. Carrefour – in partnership with the Chinese high-tech company Tencent – is testing another identification solution and is offering facial recognition payment in one of its stores in the suburbs of Shanghai. The system scans your face via a tablet with a camera and compares it to a photo database linked to the WeChat payment system. If the image matches, your account is debited and you can exit. Other similar systems exist in China where customers validate their invoices via a mobile application. These connected stores seem to be very successful in China and the United States. Amazon Go plans to open 3000 restaurants with no cash or staff by 2021, and aims to open outlets in the United Kingdom. In China, Alibaba also has high ambitions for its Hema connected stores, with the objective of opening more than 2,000 points of sale within five years.
In France, Compass group – the world leader in corporate catering – has called on Deepomatic to facilitate queues in its restaurants. Compass Group has developed an image recognition system capable of automatically recognizing dishes on meal trays and issuing an invoice, which has made it possible to absorb peak hours to provide a more pleasant service to customers. This type of collaboration represents a real technical challenge, both in the creation of an AI able to recognize hundreds or even thousands of different dishes, and in the deployment of this AI within each restaurant.
In addition, the supermarket group Casino has just opened its first digital store “4 Casino” on the Champs Elysées. Despite a brand new augmented reality showcase, touch screens and an application on which one can scan products and pay online, Casino has not yet been able to implement visual recognition and customer visual identification in order to really deliver a 100% seamless experience.
Creating a free-flow check-out system is therefore a technical feat that few companies seem to be able to master. However, this technology is essential to revolutionize customer experience in shops. Without this system, the customers’ journey is not entirely smooth and it is still necessary to have staff in the store to assist them in scanning items and payment procedures. To complete the ambitious project of eliminating queues for a completely seamless shopping experience, it is necessary to consider all stages of the customer journey in store, starting with an assisted journey so that they feel comfortable and safe during the transition period, in order to achieve a total elimination of checkouts… and long lines!