PEOPLE | Dec 6, 2019

The supermarket becomes smart: an interview with Maurizio Pecori

PassPayConad solution teaches us how Big Data, IoT and AI can improve the customer shopping experience and the efficiency of retail businesses.

Shopping in supermarkets without going through the checkout is already a reality in Italy, thanks to PassPay, an application tested for the first time at the Conad superstore in Sassari and which will soon be spread to other stores in Sardinia, Liguria and Tuscany.

“PassPay – explains the director of Engineering’s Industry Division Maurizio Pecori – allows the buyer to scan the products put in the cart through the smartphone in order to leave the store with his/her shopping without having touched a wallet”. Passing through a dedicated lane, in fact, the customer is identified thanks to specific sensors and can see the amount of his/her shopping automatically charged as well as have the receipt issued. About 150 consumers trialed PassPay in the Sassari store and showed their interest and appreciation.

What are the advantages for buyers and retailers?

“The solution was assembled thanks to the use of digital technologies which enable proximity payments and has many advantages both for the buyer, who can save time in his/her daily actions and improve the shopping experience, and for the retailer, who can remove checkouts to employ the cash register staff in customer sales assistance. Data collection using PassPay also allows sellers to know how long a customer has been in the store and, for example by adding cameras and smart shelving, how the person has moved through the various departments. This is in order to learn more about the habits and interests of users so as to improve the product offer and the supermarket’s organization.

In addition to making shopping easier and faster, what innovation scenarios does PassPay open up?

“We are already working on the possibility of associating PassPay with an intelligent shopping cart, that is, a special shopping cart capable of using sensors to intercept the products which are chosen by the buyer, who is therefore freed from the need to scan the goods via smartphone. Self-scanning will soon be abandoned in favor of integrated technologies which further improve the shopping experience, also freeing the buyer’s hands. In addition to this, in parallel, we are developing solutions which, through the use of AI and Big Data, are able to suggest products which the consumer needs and likes. Together with Digitelematica, a company specializing in e-commerce and omnichannel retailing, recently acquired by Engineering, we are considering different combinations of purchases ranging from choosing products online to then picking them up at the store or receiving them directly at home, to doing the shopping in the store also through totems, to then have it delivered at home. This is because people’s buying behaviors differ greatly and are not even easily related to specific targets: we have for example Millennials who prefer the experience of the physical store and, contrary to what you might imagine, elderly people who love to buy online. I believe that there is no longer a strong distrust of e-commerce. Technology is no longer a barrier”.

Which technologies have changed and will continue to change user behavior in the retail sector?

“There are several technologies which have already changed the way people buy. It is a mix of technologies, never a single technology, as in the case of PassPay which associates IoT with Big Data and AI. Starting from the smartphone’s Bluetooth up to cameras equipped with sensors, to smart shelving, to the analysis of the collected data, everything which is used in solutions like this one is aimed not only at improving the shopping experience, but also at involving the customer who, as mentioned, will benefit from additional services. Clearly, despite the fact that the developed solution has the important feature of economic sustainability among its values, we are talking about an application which can be used in medium and large business organizations”.

What role and added value can data analysis bring to the table?

“Analyzing the data collected through automated sales systems such as this one not only allows us to better understand the needs of the customer, but also to make the internal processes of the company more efficient. If we think, for example, of the possibility of delivering the goods at home, data analysis and Artificial Intelligence can make logistics more efficient, optimizing delivery routes and making transport sustainable not only from an economic but also from an environmental point of view. The recovery of efficiency and quality also has positive repercussions on the consumer, who will be able to save money this way.

Sonia Montegiove