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Can AI Lead the Charge Against Food Retail Theft?

Simbe Robotics CEO Brad Bogolea talks with Progressive Grocer about possible applications
Emily Crowe, Progressive Grocer
Tally at Grocery Impact
Simbe's autonomous robot Tally was on display at Progressive Grocer's Grocery Impact event in Orlando from Nov. 7-9.

For Brad Bogolea, CEO of Simbe Robotics, Inc., nearly every conversation he has with food retailers inevitably leads to a discussion about loss prevention. While it is one of the biggest issues in today’s grocery landscape, problems still persist around quantifying types of theft and where it is most often occurring.

Speaking with Progressive Grocer at the publication’s recent Grocery Impact event, Bogolea explained that today’s retailers are increasingly attempting to better understand both where products are leaving their shelves and what the flow of losses looks like. 

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“It’s a critical question that people are trying to answer,” Bogolea said. “And the scale of instrumentation within these stores today isn't providing that level of true visibility, so I think there are lots of question marks on what's really happening there.”

Bogolea further explained that Simbe has been able to close some of those gaps in visibility through instrumentation with the company’s autonomous inventory robot, Tally. As it stands, Tally robots can provide real-time data intelligence to help ensure products stay fresh, adequately stocked and priced competitively. Tally roams store aisles throughout the day, using 3D computer vision technology to collect highly accurate shelf data. 

Information provided by Tally can help a retailer see not only when items are missing from the shelf, but also when large amounts of those products are leaving stores, as they often do when a grocer is the victim of organized retail crime. Retailer interest in those sorts of applications at scale is prompting Simbe to think further about how AI-enabled Tally can be of use in the future, Bogolea said.

The act of having Tally roaming store floors has also proven to be a deterrent to theft in some instances. 

“Certainly we have a 360-degree spherical sense of what's happening in the world around us as far as intelligence,” Bogolea explained. “We're really focused on what's happening on the store shelves, but just being present within that sort of environment, I think there has been value there.”

When further considering how to deal with retail theft and furthering the loss prevention function, Bogolea believes there’s a huge opportunity for technology, especially for those grocers that use a multi-modal approach. And while there’s no silver bullet to solving the problem, a suite of solutions and capabilities that work together cohesively can be paramount.

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“We feel that the grocery store of the future needs to be something that really has instrumentation at every part of the business,” he explained. “So today it’s shelves. We're seeing technology emerge around cash registers to prevent sweethearting if it’s a store team member or if it's self-checkout. But how do you really do this across the board?” 

Continued Bogolea: “I do see this world of perpetual instrumentation throughout the whole footprint. And there's so many doors that can open not only through shelf intelligence and loss prevention, but as you're perpetually instrumenting things like food, there are things that sensor technology can understand that we can't with our human eyes.”

Following a successful pilot in more than 20 ShopRite stores, Wakefern Food Corp. is expanding the use of Tally within its stores. The cooperative will add the technology to additional locations to help optimize inventory management, among other tasks. Michigan-based SpartanNash also recently introduced Tally to several of its supermarkets in Michigan and Indiana. The solution will appear in 15 Family Fare and Martin's Super Market stores as part of SpartanNash’s investment in technology to enhance its guest and associate experiences.

This year, Simbe also developed new capabilities specifically tailored to the warehouse club format to prepare Tally for chainwide deployment across BJ’s Wholesale Club locations. 

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