By Ed Collupy
ALEXANDRIA, Va.—Innovation came to life for the Conexxus Innovation Research Committee (IRC) during a recent field trip that members made to multiple sites in Austin, Texas. One of the hallmarks of the IRC is to experience what’s new for the industry firsthand.
A visit to a new TXB Stores location in Georgetown, Texas, was on the list not only to taste its breakfast taco but also to see how an artificial intelligence pilot utilizing existing security camera system has progressed. Utilizing SparkCognition’s Visual AI Advisor solution, the insights from the location visit were intriguing and revealing.
To review the data, we visited with SparkCognition representatives at their offices and HyperWerx lab on a 50-acre site. The time together was educational and provided engaging discussion between an AI-solution provider and industry leaders who were ready to learn and participate. These leaders especially wanted to ensure that the needs of convenience and energy retailers were effectively being addressed using emerging technologies.
Professor Bruce Porter, SparkCognition’s chief science officer, provided a concise primer into neural networks and how utilizing public domain images are brought together to create AI solutions that are being used in many industries and are about to emerge in the retail convenience/energy market. He told us that the 2020s is the “decade of computer vision.”
IRC Chair Doug New, CIO at Nouria Energy, also provided a series of video clips from one of his stores, showing how utilizing existing cameras can become the basis for mapping out computer vision AI use cases and generating useful business insights with the SparkCognition solutions. The most exciting part of this discussion was members chiming in with additional use cases for the technology, which otherwise would be overlooked as potential opportunities or too time consuming with today’s camera and DVR technology.
Although TXB’s Georgetown store became a remote AI lab and learning center with its live-feed cameras, there was no visible disruption that stood out within the store itself, indicating that such advanced technology was being analyzed. The outstanding look and feel of the store—the great merchandising of private-label products, the drama of tacos being made from scratch, a checkout area with video signage to help both customers and cashiers with lottery ticket selection, a forecourt with large display fuel dispensers—all became useful elements from what the already-existing TXB cameras were watching.
These cameras were originally installed for security and safety, and the store video images are currently being used reactively, as is the case with most convenience stores.
AI Insights From TXB
SparkCognition had been collecting video data from the TXB store for less than two weeks, and in that short time, the TXB team was able to learn:
- The demographic mix of shoppers
- Where and how people are traversing the store and spending time
- Service-level measures at the foodservice and checkout counters
- Movement of customers from forecourt to store
All of these discoveries have since led to new actionable insights for the TXB management team in order to improve business opportunities.
A real-time dashboard revealed the insights to the TXB team, and amazingly, they never needed to see the actual video images. SparkCognition’s solution “watched” the live feeds for them, utilized their AI capabilities and continued to report back against pre-defined scenarios TXB wanted to observe 24/7.
The store manager asked that in addition to mobile alerts, a task list be created that summarizes key things he needed to correct or pay further attention to, which was quickly added to the dashboard. The review of what had been done over a couple of weeks for TXB became a collaborative discussion among the IRC field trip attendees as to how computer vision AI could be further utilized.
Dozens of possible use cases emerged that could address real concerns of retailers in areas of safety, consumer insights, fraud detection, forecourt and store conditions, along with service levels and labor efficiencies.
(TXB is one of the innovative convenience retailers featured in the 2022 NACS Ideas 2 Go video series.)
IRC Welcomes Participation
During Conexxus’ formation of the IRC earlier this year, committee members outlined a series of 12 challenges that were preventing them from innovating at their companies. During the course of the day and half at TXB and SparkCognition, we found there are solutions coming to the industry that will already address some of the “Dirty Dozen” list such as:
- Speed to market (impressive and actionable data in less than one week)
- Overcoming antiquated technology (can use legacy camera systems)
- Overcoming complexity (low-code/no-code)
- The need for disruptors (new industry player)
The Conexxus IRC will continue this vital work to advance the technology available and utilized within our industry to improve the organizations that are ready to join our journey.
Any retailer from any functional area in the industry is welcome to join this Innovation Research Committee. Marketing, finance and other business-focused colleagues who have participated so far have been outstanding contributors to the committee’s mission. Conexxus invites industry representatives interested in joining us to reach out to email@example.com to join our efforts in researching and solving for innovative solutions to the c-store and energy retailer industry.
Ed Collupy is the innovation facilitator at Conexxus, which is a nonprofit, member-driven technology organization dedicated to the development and implementation of standards, technologies innovation and advocacy for the convenience store and retail fueling market.