Alimentation Couche-Tard Opens Lab Store

The venture with McGill University will research and test frictionless checkout technologies.

January 18, 2021

MONTREAL—Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc., owner of Circle K, has joined forces with McGill University to launch a retail innovation lab at the Bensadoun School of Retail Management to research and test frictionless checkout and virtual reality technologies to transform the customer experience, Couche-Tard announced.

Located on McGill University’s downtown campus, the lab is one of North America's first live, open laboratory stores. It 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, Couche-Tard said.

“At Couche-Tard, we are always searching for innovative solutions that improve the experience for our customers in our stores,” said Deborah Hall Lefevre, chief technology officer, Alimentation Couche-Tard. “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 said.

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.

(Click here for a video of the retail innovation lab.)

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.

“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 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.

“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.

In the U.S., 7-Eleven tries out new offers and technology at its Evolution Stores. For photos and more on the Irving, Texas-based c-store chain’s innovations read “The Reimaging of 7-Eleven” in the December 2020 issue of NACS Magazine.