Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc. and McGill University have partnered to launch a retail innovation lab at the Bensadoun School of Retail Management — a live testing ground for innovative and frictionless technologies that address the retail sector’s challenges of the future.
In a joint effort to transform customer experience at a critical time for retailers, a world-class university and a global retailer are coming together to create one of North America’s first live, open laboratory stores.
Located on McGill University’s downtown campus, 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. All Couche-Tard stores, including this lab, follow public health guidelines and enforce thorough hygiene and sanitation procedures to protect employees and customers.
“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,” said Professor Morty Yalovsky, Dean of McGill’s Desautels Faculty of Management. “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 is specially designed with 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. The items selected will be recognized in real-time, and payment will be processed automatically in the app.
A first in Canada’s convenience store sector, 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. A frictionless option is also becoming increasingly desired by retail customers 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.
Governed by a joint steering committee, 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 use state-of-the-art artificial intelligence methods, while ensuring 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. In addition to enabling ground-breaking research, the lab will allow McGill students to deepen their knowledge through on-site experiential learning in an innovative commercial environment.
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.
In the U.S., Canada-based Couche-Tard is the largest independent convenience store operator in terms of the number of company-operated stores. In Europe, Couche-Tard is a leader in convenience store and road transportation fuel retail in the Scandinavian countries (Norway, Sweden and Denmark), in the Baltic countries (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania), as well as in Ireland, and has an important presence in Poland.
In addition, under licensing agreements, more than 2,220 stores are operated under the Circle K banner in 15 other countries and territories (Cambodia, Egypt, Guam, Guatemala, Honduras, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Jamaica, Macau, Mexico, Mongolia, New Zealand, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Vietnam), which brings the worldwide total network to more than 14,220 stores.