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CSA Q&A: Choice Market applies frictionless data to store planning

Choice Market kiosk
A shopper in a Choice Market autonomous store.

A local Denver-based convenience retailer is analyzing data generated by its autonomous stores.

In an exclusive interview with Chain Store Age, Mike Fogarty, CEO of Choice Market and Amanda Dentici, COO of Choice Market, explained how the retailer is utilizing Microsoft Cloud for Retail technology to analyze anonymized customer data collected by networked, ceiling-mounted cameras equipped with AifFi Refresh technology.

Using the retailer’s Choice Now mobile check-in and cashierless checkout technology (powered by AiFi), shoppers scan a QR code upon entry, pick up their groceries and then leave without a traditional checkout, receiving a mobile receipt. The frictionless technology utilizes hundreds of ceiling cameras. 

Choice Market then interprets how shoppers interact with store layout and product mix using Smart Store Analytics, a Microsoft Cloud for Retailing solution that uses data from the AiFi’s platform to provide insights about merchandising, inventory and store layout. It does not use biometrics or facial recognition, instead creating anonymous avatars of customers as they enter a store.

Why did Choice Market decide to obtain deeper analytics into your automated shopping experience?

Fogarty: As a small organization, it can be tough to manage and leverage customer data, but there's a lot of it there that can inform the company in terms of things like merchandising mix, store layouts in terms of traffic patterns, and customer behavior. We knew we had this data but were only making limited efforts to connect it to our back-end systems to improve the store experience.

What led to your selection of Microsoft Cloud for Retail analytical solutions?

Fogarty: Choice Market was already a Microsoft customer We use teams to manage the business and Power Apps to manage our master data. So it made sense to evaluate tools that they had. And I discovered AiFi was also an active partner of Microsoft. So it made sense to evaluate how we could analyze frictionless shopping data using Microsoft technology.

Can you provide an example of a decision this data has helped Choice Market make?

Dentici: A traditional supermarket places products in a way to get you to spend as long as possible in the store. But our goal is to reduce shopping time for the customer and make the trip to our store more convenient. We were able to make merchandising changes such as moving yogurt next to energy drinks, as we saw the two items were frequently bought together, but it was taking the customer a long time to pick both items up.

By doing that, we were able to reduce shopping time on those specific items by over 30%. When you compound that data across many different items, it becomes very meaningful for our customer.

Does the frictionless shopping model lend itself to deep analysis of in-store customer behavior?

Fogarty: This depth of information wouldn't exist without the frictionless model. Then you can unlock data points that were once was available via e-commerce channels, such as what products are picked up and put back or in front of what fixtures customers spend most of their time.

What future plans do you have for technology innovation?

Fogarty: A core focus for us is re-architecting our whole tech stack and implementing front -end mobile apps and in-store kiosks to leveraging these technologies in a more thoughtful and innovative way. This could mean being able to walk into a Choice Market store and have augmented reality storytelling around the brands that are on the shelf, such as where and when the product was produced, using blockchain to track it back.

Also, we would like to connect our mobile app to customer health apps, so we could reward a customer who walks to their local Choice Market store instead of driving there. What sort of loyalty program do Gen Z and millennial shoppers want? Do they want to save a couple cents off their next purchase? Or do they want more experiences and rewards that really matter to them?

And looking at ChatGPT, we get plenty of customer requests, support calls and other communications that could be automated to some extent. These are technologies we're not only actively evaluating but developing. It isn’t about implementing tech for tech’s sake, and certainly is not about overpowering the experience or making it overly complicated. It’s really about making the customer experience much more convenient and thoughtful.



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