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Wakefern Takes a New Angle on Inventory Visibility

Shelf-mounted cameras expanding to 50 stores
ShopRite
Photograph by WGB Staff

Wakefern Food Corp. is expanding a test of shelf-mounted cameras using computer vision to track inventory and alert the company to gaps and out-of-stocks.

The test of Focal Systems products, currently in four stores of the Keasbey, N.J.-based ShopRite cooperative, will expand to 50 stores, the companies said.

The expansion highlights the speed at which retailers are embracing automated technologies to aid in operations and efficiency—and an evolution of the concept itself. Initially, ShopRite stores tested the units by mounting them to shopping carts and collecting they data they generated as shoppers traversed stores. The new units are installed on the shelf edge itself, a Focal Systems spokesman told WGB.

“This method is less expensive and allows for higher accuracy compared to the cart-mounted cameras,” Tobias Behre of the Millbrae, Calif.-based vendor said. “Importantly, it also enables higher capture intervals because the ShelfCams are always in the same spot in the store, so we can precisely control how often we capture images of a given shelf to analyze for new out-of-stock occurrences.”

Typically, he said, the units capture shelf conditions once every hour, but the setting is controllable.

“Out-of-stocks occur not just at one point in time but throughout the day, and stores want to know when high movers go out so that they can react,” he said. This provides an advantage over roaming robots and manual scanners that cannot report as frequently, he continued.

solutions ooo

Photograph courtesy of Focal Systems

“Focal Systems’ out-of-stock detection through computer vision and artificial intelligence has enabled us to automatically identify shelf gaps,” Cheryl Williams, chief information officer of Wakefern, said in a release. “Each detection is sent directly to Wakefern’s proprietary mobile application, which prioritizes out-of-stocks by department, aisle and in-stock availability. Our stores have seen time savings and operational improvements by incorporating the new information into their daily tasks. This early success has encouraged our members to opt into a 50-store pilot expansion this autumn.”

Focal said it has deployed its system with more than 10 retailers worldwide, and that it continues to improve the technology while building the operating system for retail stores of the future.

“Customer expectations are high, and retailers want to deliver on those expectations,” said Francois Chaubard, CEO of Focal Systems. “Focal Systems provides the real-time data retailers need to run their stores efficiently. The system delivers insight into what’s happening throughout the store and allows for better decision-making by delivering alerts on out-of-stocks to store associates, merchandising teams and supply chain systems. We are thrilled to expand our partnership with Wakefern and continue driving value for them and their customers.”

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