McGill University and Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc. have recently partnered to launch one of Canada’s first retail innovation labs. The initiative is part of the retail innovation studies program at the Bensadoun School of Retail Management, acting as a live testing ground for innovative and frictionless technologies that address the retail sector’s future challenges.
In the wake of COVID-19 and the countless obstacles it imposes on retailers, the university and the global retailer have come together to create one of North America’s first live, open laboratory stores, in a bid to transform the customer experience at this critical time.
Located on McGill University’s downtown campus on prestigious Sherbrooke Street West, 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 are set to focus on helping customers make healthier, more sustainable consumer choices, and finding equilibrium between personalization and privacy within the shopping experience.
“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.”
The lab provides researchers with state-of-the-art artificial intelligence tools, while also 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.
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 team members to provide elevated service, speed up in-store visits, and create a more straightforward shopping experience for customers.
“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,” she added.
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.
“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, Vice-President Quebec West – Operations, Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc. “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,” she added.
The lab is currently open at reduced hours and allows for a limited in-store capacity until local public health authorities in Quebec deem it safe to operate at full capacity.
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.
This news comes days after Retail Insider reported that Couche Tard was looking at acquiring European-based food retailer Carrefour. This would be ACT’s biggest acquisition to date and could see the company pivot slightly into the role of grocerant.