- Alimentation Couche-Tard, the parent company of Circle K c-stores, has disbanded its global innovation team, which had spearheaded technology-driven projects like the retailer's Smart Checkout program, a company spokesperson told C-Store Dive.
- Couche-Tard shuttering its innovation team was done through a “realignment” of its functional and operation teams, and will allow the retailer to “focus more squarely on core operations and strategic growth priorities,” the spokesperson said.
- Although Couche-Tard broke up its global innovation team shortly after the new year, the plan to do so had been in the works for some time, a source familiar with the situation told C-Store Dive. The majority of team members in the division have been reassigned to other areas of the business, the source noted.
Many of the initiatives launched by Couche-Tard’s innovation team have shifted to other groups within the company, such as its global technology, marketing and operations teams, the spokesperson said. They added that those divisions took most of the innovation team’s former members as well.
Couche-Tard axing its global innovation team comes during a technology boom across the c-store industry, as both large and small retailers are investing in mobile and digital capabilities, frictionless checkout, facial recognition software and even floor-cleaning robots.
The Smart Checkout program was one of the more notable initiatives developed by Couche-Tard’s global innovation team. Launched in June 2022, the frictionless platform uses computer vision to recognize customers’ items once they are placed onto a platform, and automatically rings them up. Couche-Tard set an initial goal to have its Smart Checkout in 7,000 stores globally, and by March 2023, it had reached 2,000 U.S. locations and 120 in Europe, according to the company’s recent earnings call.
Before launching Smart Checkout, Couche-Tard’s global innovation team debuted its first-ever retail innovation lab store at McGill University in Montreal in January 2021. The c-store acts as a testing ground for new technologies, using artificial intelligence to improve customer recommendations as well as virtual reality to make it easier for customers to find what they’re looking for.
Both Smart Checkout and the McGill University c-store — in addition to other projects launched by Couche-Tard’s global innovation team — will continue “in more operational phases,” the spokesperson said.
“We remain committed to defining and executing the future of convenience and mobility, operational excellence and retail technology — and there’s a lot of innovation work that we’re now focused on executing and scaling,” the spokesperson said.
Laval, Quebec-based Couche-Tard operates more than 5,700 c-stores in the U.S. It is the second-largest c-store company in North America behind 7-Eleven.