Israel’s Trigo challenges Amazon on its own turf, with US debut of shop-and-go tech

Computer vision startup to pilot frictionless shopping tech with Wakefern, largest retailer-owned grocery co-op in America

Ricky Ben-David is The Times of Israel’s Startups and Business editor and reporter.

A Netto store in Munich powered by Trigo's checkout-free tech, October 2021. (Stefan Hobmaier)
A Netto store in Munich powered by Trigo's checkout-free tech, October 2021. (Stefan Hobmaier)

Israeli computer vision startup Trigo Vision is taking its frictionless shopping technology stateside, starting with a pilot scheme announced on Thursday with Wakefern Food Corp, the largest retailer-owned cooperative in the United States.

Trigo wrapped up a monumental year in 2021, cementing key partnerships with some of the largest grocery retail chains in Europe including German retail giant REWE group, German-owned supermarket chain Aldi, whose Aldi Nord division is considered the largest grocery retailer on the continent(and also operates Trader Joe’s markets in the US), and discount grocery retailer Netto, also German-owned. The Israeli company had already been working with UK grocery heavyweight Tesco, which opened its first fully autonomous checkout-free grocery store in London this year, as well as Israel’s Shufersal.

Based in Tel Aviv, Trigo is now making its first foray into the US where it will offer its AI-powered, grab-and-go, checkout-free system at a grocery store in New Jersey connected to Wakefern, a cooperative that includes 50 members that own and operate 362 retail supermarkets under the ShopRite, Price Rite Marketplace, The Fresh Grocer, Dearborn Market, Gourmet Garage, and Fairway Market brands across the country.

Founded in 2018, Trigo uses computer vision and advanced artificial intelligence-based algorithms to allow shoppers to fill their carts with groceries and then just walk out of the store, without engaging in any checkout process. Payments and receipts are settled digitally. To do this, the company applies its algorithms to ceiling-mounted cameras that can then automatically track shoppers’ movements and product choices in the store in real-time.

Crucially, Trigo specializes in retrofitting existing spaces, allowing retailers to keep their unique character and layout while turning them into fully autonomous, digital stores.

This gives the company an edge over Amazon, whose Go technology also allows shoppers to simply walk out with their purchases, no checkout required. But whereas Amazon has to build custom-made stores for its tech, Trigo works with retailers that already have the infrastructure in place.

“Physical retail is the one space where traditional businesses can take on Amazon and win. The chains we’re working with have thousands of existing stores, Amazon has to build new stores,” said Trigo CEO Michael Gabay, who founded the company in 2018 with his brother Daniel.

Trigo co-founders Michael, left, and Daniel Gabay. (Tom Bartov)

Amazon currently has over 30 such locations, a majority in the US, with at least three in the UK.

Amid concerns over further expansionary plans by the US commerce giant, traditional supermarket chains are hoping to fend off the competition by upping their game and offering customers a better shopping experience.

“Trigo’s partnerships with Europe’s biggest retailers have come at a really good time for them. Amazon is currently going in aggressively into the physical grocery retail space. In the UK, they are opening up a lot of … stores,” Gabay told The Times on Israel on Thursday via email.

“Our partners like Tesco have thousands of stores. And once you retrofit one store, you can then start to do it much quicker and easier in other stores. They already have the real estate and the infrastructure to roll this out faster than Amazon,” he explained.

A shopper at a REWE store in Cologne, Germany, that has been outfitted with Trigo’s checkout-free, grab-and-go technology. (REWE/Kai Schulz)

Another Trigo advantage is its premium on privacy and data protection. The company does not capture biometric data nor does it use facial recognition, or hold any direct identifiers of customers. Trigo’s system recognizes shoppers’ movement while they’re in the store — picking up items to take or putting them back — but does not know who they are at any stage. Amazon meanwhile has raised privacy concerns with some of its initiatives.

“This whole concept of democratizing access to very high-tech systems, especially for independent grocers, is a great thing. It won’t just be Amazon with frictionless tech,” said Gabay.

Trigo is also playing the long game with a strategy meant to not only give retailers the ability to offer next-level grocery-buying experiences to customers but also to tap into unprecedented insights into their operations.

“The first use case is you put the cameras in and the sensors and people shop frictionless. You shop, you walk out, it’s all done automatically. The next layer on that is the StoreOS. If I’m a grocery chain and I have this [Trigo’s systems] in one store and then another and another, I’m going to start learning a lot about what’s going on with my inventory across locations, all that data is analyzed. I know what’s popular in this area, I know what’s missing in that area, I know a lot of things that bridge the digital and physical. And this is something that [grocery stores] were not able to do before. Now it’s happening in real-time,” Gabay said.

Trigo’s frictionless shopping tech powers a Tesco store in London. (Tesco)

“The real value for the retailers is the real-time analysis, inventory analysis, and the data. This is really a game-changer for grocery retailers,” he added.

These capabilities also stand to benefit retailers with their online shopping offerings, a growing market that is expected to generate sales of an estimated $187 billion by 2024 in the US alone. But it is not without its hiccups including delivery delays and missing items.

“A lot more people are ordering their groceries online nowadays. Invariably, when their orders get delivered a day or two later, things are missing, and they will try and replace them, or not. Now for the first time, the store can know right away when items are available on the shelf or not. Trigo’s cameras know exactly where things are and what is missing and they can connect to the e-commerce site. So people can forget about ordering things that won’t come. This is where it’s going,” Gabay said.

The Trigo co-founder welcomed the new partnership with Wakefern on Thursday, saying that the US move was “definitely a big step in our vision” and “a natural step for the company.”

“By helping Wakefern convert some store formats, or develop new ones that are exclusive to their brands, we can help them accelerate their growth within the market and pave the way for frictionless shopping in the future,” Gabay said.

Charlie McWeeney, VP of Technology, Innovation, and Strategy at Wakefern said Trigo’s tech will open up “access to cutting edge innovation for our members. We are excited to pilot Trigo’s solution and offer our consumers the ultimate in checkout convenience.”

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