In a joint effort to transform customer experience at a critical time for retailers, Alimentation Couche-Tard and McGill University have launched a retail innovation laboratory at McGill University’s Bensadoun School of Retail Management.
Located on the university’s campus in downtown Montreal, the lab allows researchers to carry on-site experiments and develop new technologies to improve the customer experience in these times of pandemic.
Couche-Tard, a leader in the Canadian convenience store industry, plans to implement the research projects successfully tested at the lab in some of its 14,220 stores across its global network.
Inside the lab, a Couche-Tard Connecté section is specially designed with frictionless technologies to allow autonomous checkout. Using a mobile app, customers can unlock the door to walk into the Connecté area, pick up items and leave. The app recognizes the selected items in real-time and automatically processes the payment. A first in Canada’s convenience store sector, this system aims to speed up in-store visits and make transactions safer during the pandemic. It also allows employees to spend more time on service.
Two research directors at McGill are leading the initiative: Professor James Clark of the Faculty of Engineering and Professor Maxime Cohen of the Desautels Faculty of Management.
AI and VR capabilities
Researchers will use artificial intelligence methods to improve demand forecasting and customer recommendations. They are also planning to develop virtual reality systems to make it easier for customers to find the items they need. The lab will also allow McGill students to deepen their knowledge through on-site experiential learning.
“COVID-19 will continue to have a significant impact on retailers, especially with regards to the traditional in-person customer experience,” said Professor Saibal Ray, academic director of the Bensadoun School of Retail Management. “As society progresses into our ‘new normal’ of physical distancing, it is increasingly important for researchers and students to study the evolving shopping experience of the future.”
The lab follows public health guidelines and enforces hygiene and sanitation procedures to protect employees and customers. It is currently open at reduced hours and for a limited number of people until public health authorities deem it safe to operate at full capacity.
This story first appeared on our French publication Direction Informatique