Alimentation Couche-Tard (ACT), one of the world’s largest convenience retailers, will deploy more than 10,000 Mashgin Touchless Checkout Systems, branded as ‘Smart Checkout’ to more than 7,000 of its Circle K and Couche-Tard stores over the next three years.
The company said the AI-powered self-checkout system will improve customers’ checkout times as much as 400 per cent while allowing store staff to spend more time helping customers.
ACT said the system includes a compact countertop device that fits easily into an existing store layout.
“It uses computer vision to recognize items presented from virtually any angle and instantly ring them up in a single transaction,” said the company. “Customers place their items on the Mashgin Touchless Checkout System, which uses cameras to ring up everything in under a second. There is no need to download an app or find and scan barcodes: shoppers simply put items down, pay as they normally would and are on their way in as little as 10 seconds – eight times faster than traditional self-checkout.”
Magnus Tagtstrom, VP of Global Innovation for ACT, said the company’s entire purpose is to make the customers’ experience easier.
“In a way, we sell time to them. So what can we do to speed up that checkout experience for our customers? There’s a lot of sort of tech innovation happening in this space. But the thing that kind of really resonated in our testing so far with customers, and we’ve tested this over the last couple of years in over 500 stores across the US, across Sweden and we have a lab at McGill University, it speeds up the checkout process,” he said.
“The technology is not like your traditional self-checkout where you scan your items and you really feel that you’re doing the associates’ job and you’re not very good at it.
“We’re committed to investing in and scaling technology that sets a new standard for convenience with our customers and advances our mission to make our customers’ lives a little easier every day. The Smart Checkout system powered by Mashgin’s game-changing technology shortens lines, improves the customer experience and frees up our teams to focus on helping our customers. We look forward to introducing this new platform to stores across our network.
“It’s an experience that actually kind of has some kind of wow factor and magic to it. It feels faster and more interesting than your typical checkout.”
Tagtstrom said the new technology will be rolled out to more than half of the company’s global footprint.
“Not every store. It doesn’t fit every store from a size of the store perspective. But you’re definitely going to see it in a clear majority of our stores. In any big, or any new store, you will see it,” he said.
Tagtstrom said one third of the stores deploying the new technology would have more than one unit.
He said the Canadian rollout will take place some time this year.
ACT said the rollout builds upon the successful deployment of Mashgin across nearly 500 Circle K locations in the US and Sweden since 2020, as well as Couche-Tard’s retail innovation lab store on the campus of McGill University in Montreal.
“By reinforcing computer vision models with three-dimensional data, we are able to reach 99.9 per cent accuracy when ringing items,” he said. “This innovation also allows the system to easily differentiate between different sizes of items with a similar appearance, and also makes it flexible enough to recognize grab-and-go foods like pizza or roller grill items that may look slightly different each time. Another key component to our technology is its ability to learn new objects in less than a minute and sync that data across stores, making it possible to set up a new store in under an hour,” he said.
Sylvain Charlebois, Senior Director, Agri-Foods Analytics Lab, Dalhousie University, said everyone who goes to a Couche-Tard is in a hurry and so the new checkout system is fitting with the market the company is serving.
“It’s a pump and go sort of market. Really you want to get out as soon as possible. Grab what you need. But it’s got to be done right as well. Couche-Tard has been very successful selling food products and products you can’t buy anywhere else and the freshness is actually not bad at all. The standards are pretty high at ACT,” he added.
“I suspect that the rollout will be transitory. I don’t think they’ll do a blitz. I suspect they will probably go with a few stores, work out the kinks, making sure it works well. I suspect ACT will actually make sure it doesn’t damage the brand or the fluidity of the experience as well.”
Charlebois said he recently visited his first Amazon Go store in New York City at the Rockefeller Center.
“The humanless experience was interesting. This whole idea of not having any cashiers is a work in progress for sure. On the one side, people will have to become comfortable with the technology and all of the issues related to privacy,” he said.
“It is a model. Is it the best model possible? I don’t know. My experience at Amazon Go was underwhelming to be honest because I actually bought a couple of products that weren’t fresh at all and they were out for many products as well. They were not ready for my visit at least based on what I needed and it wasn’t a huge store either.
“It’s on the execution that ACT will need to deliver, making sure that products are there, products are fresh, and people are able to grab-and-go as much as possible. I think the focus and most of the discussion has been around technology but the freshness and the availability still has to be there.”