The cashierless Market 213 locations sells cans of cold beer and pop, bags of popcorn and cotton candy, and freshly made items like sandwiches and salads
The concession stands with their long lineups, shoulder-to-shoulder crowds and wait times is a fixture of big arenas. But on Sept. 29, Calgary’s Scotiabank Saddledome became the first Canadian venue to open a cashierless c-store using Amazon’s Just Walk Out technology.
Branded Market 213, it sells cans of cold beer and pop, bags of popcorn and cotton candy, and freshly made items like sandwiches and salads. Customers use their credit card or debit card to open the gated entry, and any product they remove is automatically charged to their card, as relayed by over 50 high-tech cameras and shelf sensors outfitted in the store by Amazon Web Services.
Market 213 also opened this week at Toronto’s Scotiabank Arena with two locations, in time for the Toronto Maple Leafs to open their regular season against the Montreal Canadiens on Oct. 11.
The solution to long lines in the Saddledome has been led by Ziad Mehio, VP, technology & food and beverage for Calgary Sports and Entertainment, owner of the Calgary Flames. A native Australian, Mehio came over to North America in 2004 for work, helping launch Australian bakery chain, Bakers Delight, in Canada as COBS Bread. He has been here ever since, joining Calgary Sports and Entertainment in various IT and food-related roles in 2014.
On a video call with Convenience Store News Canada, Mehio talks the impetus behind the cashierless c-store, the terrific KPIs so far and where the concept goes next.
How did Market 213 come about?
ZM: We had been trying to build an event centre for many years as Calgary has the oldest arena in the NHL after Madison Square Gardens. [A $1.2 billion deal has been inked on the construction of a new home for the Flames.] As we were designing iterations of the centre, we promised fans that we would look to innovate and so wanted to test technological innovation in the Saddledome. About a year and half ago, we traveled to stadiums in Seattle, Los Angeles and Detroit and looked at what they had done with new tech and fell in love with the Amazon Just Walk Out technology. [Crypto.com Arena in L.A., for instance, launched grab-and-go locations using it last year.] However, the technology wasn’t available in Canada. We also looked at self-service kiosks, but the checkout speed was similar to that of a traditional concession stand, and so we parked the idea. Then Amazon reached out about seven or eight months ago and said, “We’re ready to go in Canada if you guys are still interested.” We already had a design ready to go so it didn’t take long!
In fact, it opened to patrons on Sept. 29 when the Flames hosted the Edmonton Oilers. How successful was the launch?
ZM: On the first night, we had about 800 to 1,000 sessions or transactions. We doubled the number of transactions on the second night, when country music star Morgan Wallen did a huge concert at the Saddledome.
How else are your measuring success?
ZM: We turned a concession stand that had been struggling into a really positive experience for fans. We were trying to get under 60-second transaction times and we’ve been averaging between 40 to 50 seconds per transaction. We had one season ticket holder who sits close to the store time how long it took him to get a beer from the moment he got up from his seat and back. It was less than a minute and so he was super happy. And that was the hope – to get people off the concourse and back to their seats faster.
How does the wait time compare to a traditional concession stand?
ZM: We track the transaction time when you get to the counter. We average a minute and a half to two minutes. But what happens is, first you line-up and when you get to the front of the stand, you look up at the menu and try to decide out what you want. Then the concessionaire goes and get the food and completes the transaction. There isn’t a menu with Market 213 because all the product is all clearly visible and so while we max out at about 20 people in the store at one time, the flow is pretty continuous and fast-moving. The longest wait time with the c-store is the pre-authorization process to open the gates, about six to eight seconds. It's still pretty seamless.
How deliberate was it for Market 213 to resemble a modern c-store?
ZM: We did lean more heavily towards a convenience store look and feel for speed of service versus a more traditional concession stand, which is the look other stadiums had adopted. A lot of people look at ours and say, “Hey, this looks like a 7-Eleven or Circle K,” and we wanted that.
How did you decide what to sell in the store?
ZM: What we learned from some of the cashierless stores in U.S. stadiums is sometimes you can take on and do too much. And those who have deployed the technology told us beverage sales really popped. And so, we were conscious about making it simple so that people don’t take a lot of time thinking about what they want, they can just grab and walk out. Alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages have been our number one seller. We have fridges especially for the beer that can be backfilled and so we’re never blocking the front to restock and can always maintain inventory. We’ve also had good success so far with our snacky items, like popcorn and cotton candy.
How does staffing of the store work?
ZM: We have the same number of staff that had been operating the existing stand, but now they are just doing different things. We have greeters at the front, folks on the inside making sure to ID people who look under 30 to make sure alcohol is being consumed by adults of age and people at the exits saying, “Yes, you can just walk out.”
What have been some of the challenges of the launch so far?
ZM: There are a lot of pieces to educate consumers on. There have been some questions, for instance, about why a store transaction hasn’t come through to their credit card right away. Sometimes it takes a few hours, because there are checks and balances for accuracy. Amazon doesn’t want people to complain or come back for charging the wrong item to their cards and we don’t either.
Will you be adding more Market 213 locations at Saddledome?
ZM: I think the answer is yes. I can't tell you if it's been a success because of the buzz or because of the solution itself. Time will tell, but based on transaction times and the feedback we’re getting from fans and season ticket holders that sit in and around the location, it’s going to be very successful.