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Retail Technology – Continente Labs, Portugal

By Steve Wynne-Jones
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  • In the most recent edition of ESM, we spoke to a number of retailers across Europe about some of the technological innovations they have implemented into their businesses over the past year. Here, Frederico Santos, head of digital and innovation at Sonae MC, tells us about the new Continente Labs store in downtown Lisbon.

    Sonae MC-owned Continente unveiled its first cashier-less store in Lisbon in June of last year, in partnership with Portuguese start-up Sensei. The Continente Labs store is equipped with an array of cameras and shelf sensors, using ‘machine vision’ technology to track a shopper’s purchases as s/he makes his/her way around the 150-square-metre outlet.

    ESM: Six months on from the opening of Continente Labs, what key learnings have you taken from the project?

    Frederico Santos: At Continente and Sonae MC, we’re always looking for viable and innovative ways to facilitate the purchase process without penalising the customer. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, customers were already starting to look for simpler, unstaffed checkout options.

    It is essential that we continue to answer customers’ needs and be present when and wherever they need it. The Continente Labs store is our way of exploring the future in a controlled environment, alongside our customers.

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    From our experience so far – together with our tech partner, Sensei – a few conclusions have arisen.

    Firstly, the technology is at enough of a maturity level to operate at this scale, and, very probably, also at a larger scale, which we are working on. Secondly, customers who use the concept love it and return often. Thirdly, a significant number of customers don’t want to go through an app set-up process, even if simple, to get into the store. This gives us great confidence to keep exploring new opportunities and developments in this area.

    Is there anything that arose from this project that you are planning to implement across the wider group?

    We’re constantly evaluating the customer journey and realising the multiple ways that digital tools facilitate their lives, distinctively from what other brands are doing.

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    In the particular case of Continente Labs, we understand that these type of checkout solutions will probably become common the in the food retail world. Part of the learning from this lab-shop will be understanding how and when we’ll be able to use it in other stores, and how to integrate it into the more traditional shopping experience.

    What are your expectations for the growth potential of this particular format, and is there a particular shopper to whom you believe it is particularly suited?

    We do not believe that a pure ‘cashierless’ concept will be the right solution over the next few years. To gain scale, the cashierless technology should be leveraged as a complement to existing checkout solutions, probably with deep integration between them, for example, self-checkouts that present you with the products you picked, as identified through the cashier-less tech.

    Although technology early adopters will jump at the opportunity of making their life more convenient by using these solutions, many other customers will take their time to understand how it works and assess the risk before taking the decision.

    © 2022 European Supermarket Magazine – your source for the latest Technology news. Article by Stephen Wynne-Jones. Click subscribe to sign up to ESM: European Supermarket Magazine.

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