AI in Grocery Session Recap: Automating Grocery's Future‍

Shalmali Prakash
June 23, 2023
AI-in-Grocery-Automating-Grocery's Future

At a Glance

  • Grocery Doppio’s "AI in Grocery" virtual event featured an engaging panel discussion
  • The session focused on the current state of automation in grocery stores and the boundless possibilities that arise when artificial intelligence (AI) is integrated into the enterprise
  • Discussion was led by our expert panelists, Amanda Oren (Good Food Holdings), James Frank (Toshiba), and Tim Denman (Grocery Doppio)

In the dynamic landscape of the grocery industry, automation has emerged as a transformative force, revolutionizing the in-store experience and redefining customer expectations. Grocery Doppio’s "AI in Grocery" virtual event featured an engaging panel discussion focused on the current state of automation in grocery stores and the boundless possibilities that arise when artificial intelligence (AI) is integrated into the enterprise. Led by our expert panelists, Amanda Oren (IT strategy and planning, Good Food Holdings), James Frank (innovation consultant, Toshiba), and Tim Denman (chief editor, Grocery Doppio), the session delved into the evolving realm of store automation, unveiling its benefits, challenges, and the role of AI in shaping the future of grocery retail.

According to the recent Grocery Doppio ‘Impact of AI in Grocery’ report, 18% of all current tasks could be replaced through automation and robotics, which can ultimately result in significant time and cost savings. Moreover, 81% of grocers say that the supply chain and logistics offer the biggest opportunity for automation and robotics, and there will be a 23% increase in the productivity of ‘creative’ tasks due to AI-based augmentation or assists. 

The panelists discussed how AI can help grocers create or recover lost revenue streams. Oren shed light on how AI technologies are helping boost revenue generation, focusing on four key areas. The first, using cameras to detect out-of-stocks and improve inventory management. The second, robots that address out-of-stocks and reordering, although consumer acceptance remains a challenge. Electronic shelf labeling is the third category, enabling dynamic pricing and labor cost savings. The final area, smart carts, are revolutionizing checkout by allowing real-time item tracking and seamless payment. Electronic shelf labels show significant potential, but all categories offer revenue-generating opportunities.

While addressing theft concerns, Frank threw light on how the introduction of computer vision and AI has enabled advancements in loss prevention while maintaining the customer experience. For nearly a century, the grocery industry has strived to reduce labor at the front end, with a recent focus on self-checkout automation. By analyzing customer behavior, these AI-driven technologies differentiate between normal operations and potential theft, mitigating shrinkage. Computer vision surpasses outdated weight scale technologies by providing deeper insights and intention analysis. As labor shortages arise post-COVID, the industry is moving towards self-service models, relying on intelligent automation to restore security measures without compromising efficiency. 

Frank further shared insights on how computer vision technology is being leveraged to reduce loss in retail. By implementing edge-based cameras at self-checkout systems, the AI-powered technology can identify shoplifting behavior, allowing for intervention. This approach enables retailers to analyze customer behaviors and identify areas of shrinkage in real-time, surpassing traditional methods. As the cat-and-mouse game between AI and shoplifters evolves, retailers are using camera technology throughout the store to address shrinkage. The challenge lies in striking a balance between loss prevention and a seamless customer experience. Computer vision and AI empower retailers to automate systems, analyze customer behavior, and create a secure yet fluid shopping journey. 

Oren spoke about how Good Foods has conducted various proof of concepts and pilots in the AI automation space. The company has implemented electronic shelf labels, witnessing significant benefits and return on investment (ROI). Plans are underway to expand this technology across all their banners. While robots have been discussed, Good Foods has opted for cameras to monitor in-stock levels and avoid out-of-stock situations. A pilot with Focal Systems, focusing on gaining insights through cameras, is in progress. Additionally, they are running pilots with smart carts in partnership with Instacart and Veeve, with early results yet to be determined. These initiatives aim to enhance the customer experience, demonstrate relevance, and showcase the grocer’s commitment to AI in the grocery industry.

Oren mentioned that newer versions of smart carts, including Instacart's solution, do have scales on board to address the random weight issue. The general idea is to have a small scale at the top of the cart for weighing items. The goal is to enable a checkout process that requires no external equipment. It is expected that future iterations of smart carts, such as Instacart's, will incorporate this functionality.

While talking about micro fulfillment centers, Frank mentioned how they are more suitable for hard goods like electronics, where customers typically know exactly what they want. However, in the grocery industry, the tactile and hands-on experience, along with the abundance of choices, make it difficult to fully replace the traditional brick-and-mortar store. He emphasizes the importance of preserving the unique shopping environment of grocery stores, as it allows customers to discover new products, be inspired by ingredients, and enjoy the experience of exploring different aisles. The focus should be on finding ways to protect and enhance this distinctive grocery shopping experience.

The panel also highlighted how one can gain knowledge in AI and stay up to date with the industry. Oren spoke about how attending conferences like GroceryShop is recommended, as they provide valuable insights into new technologies and trends. Networking and engaging with industry professionals can be more beneficial for learning than simply reading up on the subject. Frank emphasized how important it is to distinguish between real advancements and hype surrounding AI, which can be challenging due to the abundance of information. Finding trusted sources, relying on experts, and analyzing information are essential to determine what is realistic and what is not. Understanding the AI roadmap and its practical application requires reading, analysis, and finding reliable information sources. It's important to focus efforts and time on areas that have real potential for impact and ROI, rather than getting caught up in hype. 

In the next 90 days, panelists spoke of how retailers and grocers can take steps to automate their stores by analyzing their biggest pain points and identifying technologies that can address those issues. It's important to go beyond obvious pain points and consider how AI implementations can provide solutions. Implementing computer vision and AI technologies allows businesses to gain a deeper understanding of their operations and customer behaviors. By analyzing data and identifying new problems and opportunities, retailers can make informed decisions about where to implement new technologies, improve product offerings, and optimize the shopping environment. The key is to start with a clear understanding of the business and use AI as a tool to gain new insights and solve current challenges. This process of understanding and continuous improvement is crucial in leveraging AI effectively in the retail industry.

To view the entire session, please click here