Portugal: Continente Labs opens first store with no check-out

Portuguese retailer Continente is “the first European brand” to open a cashier-less shop – Continente Labs – in an investment of more than “€1 million”, the director of innovation and digital transformation, Frederico Santos, told Lusa on Wednesday.

He said it is “a store where we want to introduce experiences, technologies, product ranges permanently”.

“We are the first European brand to open a shop without cashiers”, said the director of innovation and digital transformation, pointing out that only the North American company Amazon has stores in the United States and the United Kingdom operating with a similar concept.

The total investment, including construction work, equipment and technology, “exceeded a little over a million euros”, said Frederico Santos.

The store, with a sales area of 150 square metres, has “20 kilometres of network cables” and is equipped with “around 230 cameras on the ceiling and over 400 shelf sensors”, which associate the products collected (and returned) from the shelves by each customer, creating virtual shopping carts, with payment being processed automatically via an associated card.

To make purchases in this new store, clients download an application – Continente Labs – on their smartphone and have a debit or credit card associated and the billing data to issue the electronic receipt.

“There is an application, which is Continente Labs, which supports the Continente card application, which almost one and a half million customers already have and that, in one application or another, it is possible to configure” to make a payment, he explained.

After everything is configured, you need to open the Continente Labs application, which will display a code (QR Code). This code is read at the entrance, in the turnstile area, which after reading it opens and the customer only has to put away the mobile phone and not worry about anything else, except shopping.

When you start shopping and take the items off the shelves, your virtual trolley starts to be calculated through the artificial intelligence technology of Sensei, a Portuguese start-up and partner in this project.

The ‘machine vision’ technology follows the customer’s position throughout the shop, without using facial recognition, guaranteed Frederico Santos, who explained that the sensors could understand which article was taken off the shelf if it was returned or put down in a different area.

Underneath the shop is a powerful ‘data centre’ which “is permanently processing information”, he said.

Once purchases have been made, the customer leaves the shop without presenting anything else and “goes home”.

Meanwhile, Sensei sends the virtual shopping cart to Continente, which processes the invoicing and issues the electronic invoice.

But what if there is a problem with the items? No problem, because the app has a feature that allows you to complain.

“We keep the interaction images during the normal 15-day return period because we are obliged by the GDPR [data protection regulation]”, which foresees that there is a person to evaluate what happened in case the customer makes a complaint.

Initially operating between 12:00 and 21:00, six days a week, Continente Labs will have six people in the shop: someone is needed to receive the goods, put them on the shelves, replenish stock and ensure hygiene and safety in the operation, among others.

For example, if a customer wants to buy alcohol, as the shelf is closed, one of the shop employees will be needed to access the product.

If a customer leaves an article on the wrong shelf, the employees receive that indication on the application.

On replicating the concept, the head said he has “no plans to do so” at this time.

“I have no doubt at all that this is part of the future of the shopping experience, I am super convinced of that”, this “solution is the experimentation base on which the right solutions will emerge”, he stressed.

In terms of data protection, “customer confidentiality is guaranteed”.

Sonae MC with Continente and Sensei, as a technology operator, have “very clear contracts between the two entities in which clarify how customer data is handled. He said it was a concern from the beginning of the project to develop a solution to enhance customer confidentiality”.

When the customer enters, a random number is created, which as an example, we will identify as 425. Continente informs Sensei that customer 425 entered, and this is the only information that the technology obtains. Sensei informs the retailer that 425 has left and what his virtual cart (items he bought) is when the customer shops and leaves.

“This complete separation allows none of us to have information about the customer that we are not supposed to have, Sensei itself does not keep any image of what the customer does in the shop if he is not interacting with products. It only keeps images when the customer interacts with the shelf”, Frederico Santos affirmed.

Continente Labs, whose project started two years ago and involved “almost 100 people” from Sonae MC, is inaugurated today.

Located in downtown Lisbon, in Rua D. Filipa de Vilhena, besides being a Continente supermarket where customers can shop, it also intends to be “a living lab” with “100% Portuguese technology”.

Its location brings together various consumer profiles: from the student population (at the foot of the Instituto Superior Técnico) to the professionals who work in the surrounding offices to the varied set of residents.

“This is the first version of the shop”, he said, admitting the possibility of extending the payment option in the future.