Tesco embarks on image recognition technology for product placement

Tesco is looking to pilot image recognition software to improve product placement in its stores

Tesco is looking to pilot image recognition software to improve product placement in its stores.

Working with IBM, Tesco Labs – the retailer’s research and development team – has been researching a system to ensure products remain in the correct place on the retailer's shelves. Tesco hopes to pilot the software in stores over the next couple of months.

Head of Tesco Labs Angela Maurer said bad product layouts with gaps on shelves is a bad customer experience, with a lot of time and science going into planograms to work out which products sell better in what positions.

The challenge for the retailer is messy product shelves which have to be fixed by store employees armed with an instructional piece of paper. The Tesco Labs team felt this could be better solved with technology.

Over the past 18 months, IBM and Tesco Labs have created an image recognition project which takes a photograph of a shelving unit and quickly gives feedback on the 50 or so products on display. This will let employees know if the items are in the correct place.

“You take a picture, upload it to the cloud and in a few seconds you find out whether the product has been recognised and if it’s in the right location,” Maurer told delegates at the National Retail Federation conference in New York City

“To be able to get that information whenever we want without relying on colleagues to get it is incredibly powerful,” she added.

“And once you’ve got that recognition, the opportunities to use that information are limitless."

A consumer could potentially snap a photo of a shelf of products and have information on the products overlaid using augmented reality.

“If you’re diabetic, to be able to look around the shelves and automatically get information on the sugar content – that’s incredibly powerful,” said Maurer.

She also said while there are many other suppliers working on image recognition software, IBM was the one Tesco Lab felt could do the project at speed, while being flexible enough to deal with issues such as scrunched-up crisp packets and reflections.

Tesco Labs is a relatively new division of the retailer which spends the majority of its time thinking about end-customer needs and the supporting technologies that could make the customer experience better. 

Tesco Labs is a 25-person team made up of researchers, designers, developers and product managers spread across the globe.

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