Coen stores add Grabango checkout technology

As the frictionless locations go into service, Grabango's CEO Will Glaser sees the technology gaining traction in coming years

In a little over three months, Grabango has also opened frictionless stores with Mapco and ExtraMile Convenience stores. Several of these stores have opened a little behind schedule due to supply chain constraints, though Glaser said those are starting to ease up. 

Installing Grabango’s overhead sensor technology took place in the Coen stores without impacting operating hours or costing locations any sales, Grabango CEO and founder Will Glaser said in an interview.

“We install with zero downtime,” said Glaser. “There's never a moment where they close.”

Grabango also overbuilds to protect against having to shut down after installation if a piece of technology fails. 

“We put in twice as many as we need of everything,” Glaser said. “We can lose any single sensor, any power supply, any connector, any computer node … and the system continues to work. It's not optimum, but it gives us time to go in and make our replacements.”

While the overhead sensors keep track of many of the items picked up, some items require other solutions. For instance, if something is sold by weight, then information on how much the customer has selected comes from the scale. Other items, like made-to-order food, require a different approach.

“We're designing the retrofit solution. So we have to fit in with the legacy operations. And the legacy operation today is the person behind the counter makes whatever you want them to make, enters it into their terminal and prints out a sticker, which has a barcode,” Glaser said. The worker will just scan the barcode before handing the food over, to let the system know what the customer has picked up. 

The technology currently requires all customers to have a smartphone to shop at these locations, although Glaser said the company is working on a solution to allow customers to shop without the app. 

Glaser believes frictionless technology will be in “thousands” of stores by next year. “And by 2026, they'll be commonplace. They'll be typical.”

The Grabango system also creates and uses a lot of data — Glaser said that a grocery store can produce 20 petabytes of data a day. The customer data is destroyed as soon as possible, but some of the other insights can be compiled. 

“There are CPG-related data streams that are super valuable,” Glaser said, pointing to a recent study they did on put-back ratios, or how often a customer would pick an item off the shelf and then put it back. One item had an “astronomically bad” put-back ratio of 40%. But on the other end, they found one standout.

“It's exactly one product that people picked up and never returned to the shelf,” said Glaser. “And that product is Jameson Irish whiskey.”

Canonsburg, Pennsylvania-based Coen Markets have been serving customers in the Pittsburgh area for a century. In addition to fuel and convenience items, some locations also offer made-to-order food like chicken and pizza.

By Jessica Loder on Feb 15, 2023
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