Tesco is making use of IBM-developed augmented reality software to ensure its in-store displays are being used as intended.
The collaboration between the two firms sees tablet-wielding Tesco employees patrolling the shop floor to check shelves have been stacked correctly, and responding to the day-by-day changes of consumer demand that affects how and where products are displayed.
The user takes a picture of a shelf, and a back-end server checks for any discrepancies between the planned layout and reality, flagging up areas that need altering in order to comply with the intended layout. It will then flag up insufficient quantities, items in the wrong place or boxes that have toppled over.
This is normally done manually, with employees comparing what they can see on shelves to pre-drawn plans to see if products are stacked properly.
Tesco is currently piloting the technology at an unnamed store near London.
Mike McNamara, CIO of Tesco, said the collaboration between Tesco and IBM was intended to boost the customer experience. "Delivering a better shopping experience to our customers includes making sure products are well stocked and easy to find," he explained. "The IBM application will help us to improve store operations beyond the current manual processes and barcode-based methods."
Ultimately, well-stacked shelves result in better sales for supermarkets, and IBM and Tesco's arrangement demonstrates the lengths retailers go to ensure they meet demand.
The project is part of IBM's "First-of-a-Kind" programme, which sees IBM researchers working alongside customers to test new technologies in real-world situations. Sima Nadler, IBM's head of Retail Research, said: "This collaboration with Tesco shows how mobile technology can be used to create a smarter, more convenient experience for consumers and retailers alike.
"It also demonstrates that today's most compelling advances in mobile technology result from how the devices are used, rather than the devices themselves. By using mobile to maximise inventory and sales, enterprises can stay ahead of the competition."
The retail landscape presents a particularly tough challenge for tech firms, as consumer demand is affected by factors that are not directly connected to the shops themselves, such as news reports and weather. As the supermarket landscape remains hotly competitive, any benefit to customer experience is seen to justify large-scale IT projects.
V3 spoke to Tesco's McNamara in January about subjects ranging from 3D-printing to big data as the retail market embrace the benefits emerging technologies present.
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