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The store of the future is packed with smart technology

What does the physical store of the future look like? We predict that retail will further digitalise with automation, robotics and smart technology. Welcome to the future.

Greg: "Through innovation, we have an impact on the work quality of our colleagues, the efficiency of our company and, of course, our customers.”

Digitalisation and automation at Colruyt Group

“Our mission as an innovation hub is to add impetus to the digitalisation, automation and robotisation of Colruyt Group’s stores, distribution centres and transport. To this end, we test innovative technologies capable of making our company future-proof, Greg Pinte, technology manager at Smart  Innovation explains. "We use proven technology, but also develop products and services in-house. To achieve all this, we work together with our colleagues from IT, Technics and the other support services of our group. Together, we form a diverse team of experts in robotics, computer vision technology and cybersecurity, software engineers, IT architects, project engineers, technicians and more."

What will the physical store of the future look like?

If you ask us, we predict the further digitalisation of physical stores, which will make smart use of data, computer vision, the Internet of Things and, yes, even robotics. Below is an overview of some of the projects we recently completed.

Examples of smart technology at Colruyt Group

1. Self-service store
  • Open 24/7
  • Self-service, no store staff
  • Smart (refrigerated) cabinets with product detection
  • Third fully automated Okay Direct store open since March 2024

We apply this technology at Okay Direct, Jims and Spar For You.

Self-service store OKay Direct Lennik
2. Self-scanning shopping cart
  • 'Smart Cart' that scans and registers products
  • Faster and easier shopping
  • Still being tested
Staff testing the Smart Cart in a Colruyt store
3. Camera scans groceries at checkout
  • Computer vision technology
  • More ergonomic for store staff
  • 20 % faster
Smart camera at checkout at Colruyt Lowest Prices
4. Product Finder
  • Internet of Things
  • Employees scan a product bar code with an app, which makes the corresponding price label light up at the store
  • 1.5 hours a day saved when stocking shelves
Product Finder via electronic price labels at Colruyt Lowest Prices
5. Self-driving vehicles
  • Based on computer vision technology, machine learning and sensors
  • Small trolleys for home delivery of groceries
  • Autonomous forklifts in our distribution centre
Autonomous forklift in the Colruyt Group distribution centre

What are the benefits of smart technology in retail?

"Computer vision, weight cells, Internet of Things, artificial intelligence, machine learning, etc. All these are digital technologies. This offers a lot of advantages, such as scalability, for example," Jeroen Diels, project engineer at Smart Innovation, explains. "Once the hardware and software are fully in place, they are fairly easy to roll out to another location. By the way, did you know that computer vision adapts itself to its environment? The cameras calibrate themselves and adjust their settings where necessary."

Jeroen: “Once the hardware and software of a new technology are fully in place, the technology is often easily scalable.”
Digital instore projections of promotions at Colruyt Lowest Prices Digital instore projections allow us to highlight temporary promotions flexibly and remotely.

"Digital technologies can also be easily adjusted remotely. Just one example: the shelves at Okay Direct are filled by a store employee. Suppose this person accidentally puts a product in the wrong place. Then, I can remotely adjust the setting so that our smart fridge still recognises this new product."

How do Smart Innovation and IT work together?

"The pilot phase of a project is a relay race, with Smart Innovation and IT holding the baton together. At Smart Innovation, we are driven by innovation and speed. Our focus is on ‘phygital automation’: physical and digital automation. To then integrate those applications into our company's existing IT systems, we work closely together with our colleagues at Colruyt Group IT," says Greg. "Because while our smart cameras can recognise bar codes, they need to know which code corresponds to which product, and to which current price. And our self-propelled forklift can indeed move pallets by itself, but we also need to know which products are on those pallets."

Self-propelled forklift in distribution centre of Colruyt Group Self-propelled forklift in our distribution centre

"Moreover, the cybersecurity experts in the IT department check whether the new technology is secure. Once the technology is watertight and working like clockwork, IT and Technics see to its large-scale rollout to all stores or distribution centres. They also ensure that the system is properly maintained and that updates or optimisations are performed. This large-scale rollout really allows us to make efficiency gains.”

PMI Chapter Event Colruyt Group

PMI Chapter Event

Jeroen is one of many speakers at PMI Belgium and Colruyt Group's PMI Chapter Event. An instructive evening of inspiration and networking for project managers and other IT professionals. The presentations follow the Pecha Kucha principle: 20 visual slides, each lasting 20 seconds. Some of the topics: