The new lab at McGill’s Bensadoun School of Retail Management will enable ground-breaking research and test innovations, including frictionless technologies
McGill University and Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc. are partnering in the launch of a retail innovation lab at the Bensadoun School of Retail Management—a live testing ground for frictionless technologies that address the retail sector’s challenges of the future, as well as present day efforts to help people shop safer and reduce touchpoints doing the the pandemic.
In a joint effort to “transform customer experience at a critical time for retailers,” the university and c-store giant are creating one of North America’s first live, open laboratory stores. Located on McGill University’s campus in downtown Montreal, the lab is currently open at reduced hours and for a limited number of customers in store until local public health authorities deem it safe to operate at full capacity.
“By combining artificial intelligence and retail management, this retail innovation lab at the Bensadoun School of Retail Management will allow our researchers to develop new initiatives and technologies to improve the customer experience for the retail sector with the help of industry partners,” Professor Morty Yalovsky, Dean of McGill’s Desautels Faculty of Management, said in a release. “We are excited to welcome one of Canada’s largest retailers, Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc., as the first industry partner of our lab to help shape the future of retail during this pivotal moment in history.”
“This new store on the McGill University campus is a unique demonstration of our commitment to find new ways to make our customers’ lives a little easier,” said Deborah Hall Lefevre, chief technology officer, Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc. “At Couche-Tard, we are always searching for innovative solutions that improve the experience for our customers in our stores. By having a live laboratory, we are confident that the research projects and technologies successfully tested at the lab may eventually be implemented in some of our 14,220 stores across our global network.”
Inside the lab, a Couche-Tard Connecté section uses frictionless technologies to allow autonomous and contactless checkout. Using an app, customers can unlock the door to walk into the Connecté section, pick up items and leave without standing in a checkout line to pay. The purchased items are recognized in real-time and payment is processed automatically in the app.
The company says “the frictionless store will allow Couche-Tard store team members to spend more time on service, speed up in-store visits, and make its customers’ lives a little easier every day.”
In addition, it meets the need of consumers to have less touchpoint and spend less time in stores during the pandemic.
The lab is led by two research directors at McGill: Professor Maxime Cohen of the Desautels Faculty of Management and Professor James Clark of the Faculty of Engineering. The lab is to be governed by a joint steering committee and, according to a release, “preliminary research themes will involve helping customers make healthier, more sustainable choices, and finding the right balance between personalization and privacy in the shopping experience.”
Researchers will balance state-of-the-art artificial intelligence methods with stringent data privacy and confidentiality protocols, to “improve demand forecasting and customer recommendations, as well as virtual reality to make it easier for customers to find what they are looking for.”
“We are proud to deploy this new store with McGill’s Bensadoun School of Retail Management, and in doing so, contribute to developing the next generation of entrepreneurs, offer a differentiated customer experience with the latest technologies, and provide an even more rewarding and safe work experience to our current and future employees,” said Sophie Provencher, VP Quebec West – operations, Alimentation Couche-Tard. “Through this partnership, we will build on the great customer service our store team members provide every day, by making their jobs a little easier and giving them more time and opportunity to delight our customers.”
“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 is funded by the Bensadoun Family Foundation and Bensadoun School of Retail Management Founders Circle, of which Alain Bouchard, founder and chairman of the Board of Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc., is a member.