Stores

How one Silicon Valley startup is using computer vision to make shopping frictionless

AiFi-powered shops look just like regular convenience stores — and that's intentional.
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AiFi

· 4 min read

Silicon Valley startup AiFi (pronounced like “wi-fi”) is the driving force behind no fewer than 86 “computer-vision powered” autonomous stores in North America, Asia, Europe, and the Middle East.

AiFi isn’t the first company to pursue autonomous (also called cashierless or checkout-free) retail solutions. There’s stiff competition, including from Amazon’s “Just Walk Out” technology, and a number of other companies hoping to make their tech ubiquitous in the retail world.

AiFi’s chief technology officer, João Diogo Falcão, said he believes that what makes AiFi stand out is the simplicity of implementation for retailers. The company’s camera-powered model means stores can retain their physical setup when they make the transition to autonomous checkout.

AFi’s artificial intelligence provides retailers with a better understanding of human behavior in brick-and-mortar stores by collecting data typically associated with e-commerce, Falcão said. Retailers can track how much time shoppers spend in certain aisles, which products they pick up and then put back, and basket size trends.

It also helps them mitigate labor challenges, and allows 24/7 shopping, which the company claims helped Polish convenience-store chain Zabka increase sales by up to 40%.

Autonomous checkout in practice

Retail Brew visited an AiFi-powered Loop Neighborhood Market in Union City, California, which also serves as the company’s Bay Area “lab,” where they test out product updates and ideas.

At eye-level, the store looks like any other convenience store—froyo and slushie machines, wall-to-wall beverage cases, and Loop’s orange-and-white branding at every turn. It’s not until a shopper looks up that they can see evidence of the store’s autonomous capabilities in the form of 109 ceiling-mounted cameras.

  • According to Falcão, the top differentiator of AiFi’s camera-only model (as opposed to using sensors or other technologies) is that in addition to allowing retailers to keep their optimized setup, the in-store experience is a familiar one for shoppers.
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Talk tech to me: When you enter the AiFi-powered Loop store, some cameras are focused on people, and others on the products and shelves. As a shopper moves throughout the store, the cameras create “events” of each interaction with a shelf. When the shopper exits the store, the system closes the transaction, and processes the events to generate a list of which products the shopper left with.

“The first thing the system does is anonymize everything, and you become a key point avatar in a 3D space,” Falcão said.

Only if a customer chooses to share their identity (like through a store’s loyalty program) can a store track their purchases and behavior across shopping trips, he said.

  • Falcão said the accuracy rate for purchases at AiFi-powered stores is between 98% and 99%.

Education is key: In 2022, AiFi reports enabling the sale of around 2.5 million items to over 800,000 shoppers. The largest AiFi-powered store as of September 2022 is a 7,000-square-foot Aldi in London, Falcão said.

According to Falcão, it’s shopper behavior, and not store size or competition from tech giants like Amazon, that poses the biggest challenge for AiFi’s technology. That’s why the company isn’t branching out into verticals like apparel just yet, he explained. And he acknowledges that despite AiFi’s growth, autonomous checkout is still a thing of the future, with both retailers and shoppers learning as they go.

“The way I see it is this market is massive,” Falcão said. “Whether the Amazons of the world are going to do this, or we are going to do this…anyone doing it is  actually beneficial for the next, because [at the moment], this is education.”—MA

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