AI promotes more sweeping changes at supermarkets as check-outs replaced

Artificial intelligence is poised to make even more sweeping changes to already disrupted supermarket business principles in Australia, including reducing the number of check-outs, and using phone apps to charge customers when they take products from shelves.

Depending on which devices supermarkets are using customers will either scan the products they are buying with their phone and pay digitally as they leave the store.

Or sensors and cameras through the store will register the products customers put in their trolleys and deduct the total cost from their store account.

Driven by rising costs and expanding competition from other supermarket chains, Coles is already well advanced in its plans to introduce checkout-free shopping.

It follows the successful introduction of self-serve checkouts and online shopping and delivery.

Commerce experts say the checkout-free system is already being trialed overseas and its introduction into Australia is inevitable.

“The technology is being very much embraced across the world,” retail analyst Barry Urquhart told Channel 7.  

“It’s evolving and evolving rapidly.”

A Coles spokesman said his company was confident the new method of flash and go would be welcomed by Australian shoppers.

“I have no doubt that in the next ten years, customers will be able to take  products off the shelf,  put them in their trolley and leave the supermarket without going through a checkout,” he said.

A similar system to one being used overseas is one of the options Coles could introduce.

In America, where Amazon is already using a check-out free system called “Go” at its depots, sensors can detect what customers have put in their trolley and deduct the payment from their Amazon account after they leave the premises.

It is understood that Coles will base its Australian trials, on a similar system.

The innovation extends the growing introduction of artificial intelligence into retail shopping in Australia and promotes more disruption to traditional methods of purchasing groceries.

Coles is hoping the new check-out free system will save as much as a billion dollars in a decade. A significant part of the savings could come from reduced employee numbers, especially with robots to fill shelves being seen as the next big cost-reducing  move in supermarkets.

Coles says technology continues to evolve in supermarkets and more AI intervention is anticipated.

The company says that in 2009, only 60 Coles stores had self-serve systems.

“Now almost all of our stores have them and 50 per cent of our customers use them when checking out,” a spokesperson said.

“It’s the biggest visible change at Coles in the last decade.”

Pre-paid accounts for purchases could represent some social disruption and test supermarket security.

The introduction of  self-service check-outs led to more-than-expected pilfering, with some shoppers electing to tap in cheaper products when buying more expensive ones.

Although pilfering is understood to have been greatly reduced following tightened AI security, it could prove a temptation when the new system is introduced .

Woolworths, who along with Coles, Aldi and newcomer Kautfland, are fighting for percentages of the Australian grocery market, estimated at $100 billion a year, are also embracing technology.

Woolworths is trialing a check-out free system called Scan&Go, which allows customers  to use their mobile phones to scan the items they select and pay digitally before they leave the premises.

The focus on AI by leading supermarkets opens up exciting possibilities for  technology innovation and start-ups looking for markets to develop new ideas.

Coles’ recorded an 8.3 per cent fall in earnings in the last financial year and the company is already going public with its need to improve those figures.

Chief executive Steven Cain is pledging a return to profit growth by the 2021 financial year. He says that the next five years will be the most competitive in Coles history but says he welcomes competition in the market.

Coles spokesperson Martine Alpins says the advanced new technology does not represent a threat to using traditional check-outs.

“There are no plans to get rid of traditional checkouts,” she said.

“I think it’s more a matter of having different options for different customers We’re always looking at ways to make our customers’ shopping experience faster and easier.