Technology/Services

Choice Market Uses Microsoft Smart Store Analytics, AiFi Technology for Merchandising Solutions

App helps convenience-store retailer see how consumers shop
Choice Market shopper
Photographs courtesy of Microsoft

Denver convenience-store operator Choice Market changed its approach to selling its proprietary breakfast burritos after it implemented Microsoft Smart Store Analytics and AiFi’s camera-only technology that enables autonomous shopping.

The technology’s heat map showed that customers were going toward the burrito area in the afternoon but walking away empty-handed, according to Microsoft. So Choice Market ramped up its burrito production and moved the burritos closer to eye level, increasing sales of the breakfast-turned lunch item by half almost overnight, Microsoft said.

The burritos—made with house green chili and which also come in a vegan version—are one of Choice Market’s best-selling items, Microsoft said.

“We figured people would not want a breakfast burrito in the afternoon or evening, but we looked at the data and we realized that we were wrong,” said Amanda Dentici, chief operating officer for Choice Market. “And we’re happy to be wrong in that situation.”

Choice Market has five 3,000- to 5,000-square-foot stores open in Denver, and is opening new Mini-Marts. The artificial intelligence (AI)-powered, fully autonomous Mini-Marts are about the size of a shipping container, and they can be moved from a downtown neighborhood in Denver to a concert venue, hospital, train station or other locations, Choice Market CEO Mike Fogarty previously told CSP Daily News.

Using Choice Market’s app, customers scan a QR code when they enter the store, and AiFi’s system, which uses sensors and computer vision, identifies what they take from store shelves, Microsoft said. The app then delivers a receipt within minutes of a purchase, similar to the Amazon Go concept. Customers can also order groceries and fresh meals for pick-up through the app or have items delivered by electric vehicle, Microsoft said.

“There are all these headwinds facing our industry, so part of this is just the practical need to innovate and to automate where possible so that you can continue to grow and be a sustainable and profitable company,” Fogarty told Microsoft. “The other part is very much customer-centric. What’s more convenient than scanning your QR code once, grabbing your items and leaving, and then getting your receipt within five minutes or so? We’re essentially selling customers their time back.”

Smart Store Analytics

Microsoft, Redmond, Washington, launched Smart Store Analytics in January in partnership with AiFi, a Burlingame, California-based provider of autonomous shopping solutions. The app uses data from AiFi’s artificial intelligence-powered platform to provide insights that enable retailers to make better decisions about merchandising, inventory and store layout, the company said. It doesn’t use biometrics or facial recognition—it creates fully autonomous stick-figure avatars of customers as they enter a store.

Choice Market store

Choice Market installed Smart Store Analytics a few months after its release, and in addition to the burrito insights found that customers were buying items together that traditionally aren’t near each other in stores, like energy drinks and refrigerated protein bars. They were able to move the items closer together to see an increase in sales, Microsoft said. Average shopping times dropped from four to two minutes, the technology company said, and Choice Market hopes to get the shopping time down to 90 seconds.  

Choice Market is also exploring other uses of AI for customer service and operations and plans to use insights from Smart Store Analytics to inform stock replenishment, determine optimum pricing and make additional merchandising decisions, Microsoft said.

“We’re at the very early stages of unlocking the power of the data,” Fogarty told Microsoft. “Having that data, in combination with a target customer that I think everybody’s looking to target—higher-income, younger, millennial and Gen Z customers—that data becomes very powerful in terms of insights and actionability.”

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