Couche-Tard, which operates the Circle K brand globally, has launched a live retail lab store in Montreal featuring an autonomous shopping experience, in partnership with McGill University.
Autonomous store experience
The lab store has been launched to enable the testing of innovative and frictionless technologies in a live environment. Located on McGill University’s downtown campus in the city, the store is one of the first to open in Canada offering a checkout-free experience.
Source: McGill University
Pandemic accelerating interest in contactless technologies
A key feature of the store is the Couche-Tard Connecté area. This features frictionless technologies which enable an autonomous and contactless checkout experience. Customers enter the store via an app, pick up their items and leave. Store associates are available to support customers, while the team at McGill University will study the interaction between people and technology with the goal of improving the customer experience.
Checkout free stores on the rise
While interest in these technologies has been on the rise over the last few years, the pandemic has accelerated retailers’ interest in contactless experiences. The launch of Amazon Go has also been an important catalyst. Recent pilots of autonomous stores have included Casino in France, Carrefour in Poland and JD.com in China. Last year, Couche-Tard formed a partnership with Standard Cognition to pilot autonomous checkout technology at stores in Arizona. San Francisco based Standard Cognition was one of the first startups in this space, opening a cashierless store in the city in 2018.
Norway key testing ground
These initiatives align with Couche-Tard’s goal to create the convenience store of the future, with its operations in Norway an important testing ground for this. The retailer is focusing on the changes that need to be made to the store offer as the penetration of Electric Vehicles (EV) increases, with consumers potentially visiting less frequently, but spending longer on-site while they charge their vehicles. Globally it has added 1,000 EV chargers, half of which are in Norway, while a further 2,700 Circle K chargers have been installed in people’s homes and offices.
Retail Analysis subscribers: for more insight on this area, read our report, Unstaffed stores: 40 examples of how the concept is evolving.
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