QUINCY, Mass. — Retail Business Services, the services company of Ahold Delhaize USA, is piloting a small-format frictionless store called Lunchbox, a small-format store in which customers enter and make purchases by scanning in, shopping and walking out.
The 300-square-foot store, which officials claim can be built faster and considerably cheaper than other frictionless stores, is being tested in Retail Business Services’ offices in Quincy, Mass.
The company partnered with UST Global, a digital transformation solutions company based in Aliso Viejo, Calif., to develop the store. Retail Business Services said it led application development and technology connectivity and provided food retail operations expertise, while UST Global and its partners provided the artificial intelligence (AI) technology solution and physical infrastructure for the store.
“Lunchbox is an easy, fresh shopping alternative,” said Paul Scorza, executive vice president of information technology and chief information officer for Retail Business Services. “Once registered, shoppers simply scan in, shop and walk out. It’s that easy. And it offers fresh, healthy options 24/7. You can grab a snack, a salad, fresh fruit or even a carton of milk on your way home.”
As retailers look to technology to provide more convenient options for food shoppers, Ahold Delhaize is experimenting with several similar stores. Some stores in Europe use a “tap-to-pay” technology, allowing shoppers to read digital shelf tags with their phones. More recently, Ahold Delhaize tested a trailer-sized unmanned “nanostore” at its Zaandam, Netherlands, headquarters building in partnership with U.S. firm AiFi. Ahold Delhaize officials are eyeing that unit to bring retail to pop-up sites and other areas that traditional stores cannot reach.
Ahold’s Stop & Shop brand has also announced it would test a mobile store that shoppers can summon in the manner of a ride-hailing app.
The company said Lunchbox carries a “lean cost” compared to competitors and can be implemented in a matter of weeks. Officials declined to share specific details about the cost of the unit.
“Our philosophy on innovation is to be what we call a fast follower,” Scorza said in a video introducing the concept. “Let somebody else maybe go do that, and we can … very quickly implement that at a much lower cost.”
Scorza said Retail Business Services is testing the unit in its offices in part because a cafeteria serving the building’s 1,000 workers was being renovated, “and we were looking for a quick, cost-effective solution to give associates access to beverages, snacks and fresh items at a variety of hours. We implemented this solution in just six weeks. Today, thousands of shops, with groups of up to 12 in the store at the same time, have been successfully completed.”
In collaboration with UST Global and Intel, the technology will be demoed at the National Retail Federation's Big Show in January in New York.
The application technology for Lunchbox, created in Retail Business Services’ innovation lab and tech hub, is powered by a Retail Business Services proprietary app, which admits shoppers to the store and charges them for purchases through integration of digital services such as PayPal, Venmo, Apple Pay and Google Pay. Inside the store, AI detects which products are being removed from shelves in the store and anonymous body skeletal tracking connects the right products to the right shopper. The Intel Distribution of OpenVino toolkit enabled Lunchbox to use existing Intel-based point-of-sale systems and deploy on-premise AI at maximum performance.
“In the age of e-commerce, there are many opportunities for companies to evolve and better serve shoppers,” said Mahesh Athalye, senior director of UST Global. “Combined with AI/[machine-learning] technology and purpose-built smartphone applications, solutions like Lunchbox will help deliver frictionless experiences for shoppers seeking a quick, touchless experience.”
UST Global is a digital technology solutions company that provides advanced computing and digital services to large private and public enterprises.