Israel’s Trigo to help global chains fend off threat from Amazon shop-and-go

Startup signs deal with retail giant REWE to set up store in downtown Cologne; UK’s Tesco set to launch its first checkout-free supermarket

Shoshanna Solomon is The Times of Israel's Startups and Business reporter

An illustration of how Trigo's machine vision technology works (YouTube screenshot)
An illustration of how Trigo's machine vision technology works (YouTube screenshot)

After Michael Gabay got married and was put in charge of the weekly shopping for his family, he started to think that there must be a better way.

Gabay, who was born on Kibbutz Metzer in northern Israel and who served in the technology arm of the IDF’s Sayeret Matkal special forces unit, realized there may be an opportunity for technology to help speed up the shopping experience.

“I couldn’t believe that in a country like ours, where we do such amazing things in the army, we still have to stand in line at the checkout counter,” he said at the Tel Aviv offices of Trigo, a startup he founded in 2018 together with his brother Daniel Gabay. 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.

Trigo is now providing software as a service to retail giants in Europe aiming to give their customers a better buying experience and at the same time help them fight off increasing competition from Amazon, which has launched its Amazon Go and Amazon Fresh stores in the US and London.

In these convenience and grocery stores, shoppers can simply walk out with their acquisitions, no checkout required.

These stores, and a concern over further expansionary plans by the US tech giant, are pushing traditional supermarket chains to up their game and offer shoppers a similar experience. That is where Trigo can help, said Gabay.

Amazon uses a combination of AI, computer vision and data gleaned from multiple sensors and cameras around the stores to ensure that customers are charged only for the stuff they pick up from the shelves and walk out with.

Trigo’s technology is very similar to that used by Amazon Go, said Michael Gabay. But whereas Amazon builds new stores fitted with its technology, the cameras and sensors used by Trigo can be deployed in existing supermarkets and do not require completely new complexes, he said.

Earlier this month, Trigo said that it had entered into a partnership with German retail giant REWE group to set up a “grab-and-go” new store for REWE customers in downtown Cologne. REWE is the first grocery retailer in Germany to implement a checkout-free experience under real conditions, the company said in a statement.

The agreement follows previous Trigo partnerships with UK supermarket giant Tesco PLC, the largest grocery retailer in the UK, and with Shufersal, Israel’s largest supermarket chain. Tesco in June said it would be launching its first checkout-free store in the coming weeks, following Amazon’s footsteps, after a successful year-long trial with Trigo’s technology at the supermarket’s head office.

An illustration of an Amazon Go store (YouTube Screenshot)

“We are working with five of the 10 largest grocery retailers in the world,” said Michael Gabay, without disclosing additional names.

The company aims to have hundreds of stores set up worldwide in three years, and eventually thousands of stores, said Daniel Gabay. “It takes you years to open the first stores,” he said, but after that the next ones should follow quickly. “Artificial intelligence by nature is a learning curve, which enables exponential acceleration.”

Trigo also said in the statement that it got a $10 million investment from REWE and Viola Group, an Israeli VC fund, bringing the total funding raised to date by the startup to over $100 million.

Smart checkout solutions are expected to process nearly $400 billion of transactions by 2025, according to Juniper Research. Trigo’s analysis of Kantar supermarket data shows there are around 500,000 convenience and small grocery stores worldwide that have the potential to be retrofitted with AI-based frictionless technology, around 120,000 of them in the EU.

“The potential of scale is huge,” said Michael Gabay.

The Trigo office in Tel Aviv (Courtesy)

Trigo’s offices on the 10th floor of a high-rise in Tel Aviv contain a buzz of activity in an almost-post-COVID Israel. Near the entrance there is a mockup of a mini-market stocked with fake grocery items found in a typical Israeli supermarket: apples, bananas, peanut-flavored Bamba snacks, soft drinks and beer, pasta, cookies. Visitors can see the technology in action.

When you enter the store, you scan the QR code at the door with your cellphone. You then take your shopping cart, fill it up with groceries and voila — you walk out with your items. As you exit, you get the bill on your phone, detailing the items bought and the sum that will be charged to your credit card.

While the process seems straightforward and simple, behind the scenes there is cutting-edge technology at work, the two brothers explain, including artificial intelligence and machine vision technologies that are used today to develop self-driving cars and the like.

Trigo provides the retailers with a list of off-the-shelf hardware they need to acquire, and shows them how to install it. Its software then does its magic.

The mock supermarket store at Trigo’s HQ in Tel Aviv (Courtesy)

The machine vision technology is able to identify products without reading their barcodes, said Daniel Gabay. It is able to distinguish between a 5% salty feta cheese and a 10% salty feta cheese, even if the packaging has the same blue color and the same shape, “just as you, the shopper, would know the difference,” he said.

“The highly accurate unique algorithms we have developed are able to distinguish between thousands of items that are similar to one another, with high accuracy,” he said.

Trigo’s technology does not use facial recognition, nor does it capture biometric data or hold any direct identifiers of customers, the brothers said. The system recognizes shoppers’ movements while they’re in the store but does not know who they are at any stage.

The accuracy of the system in calculating the items acquired and billed for is better than a human cashier’s, said Michael Gabbay, declining to disclose the figure. Human cashiers have an accuracy of 99.2%, he said.

‘Everything is possible’

Trigo provides its software as a service, enabling supermarket chains to offer their customers the buy-and-go service alone or in combination with the option of a checkout counter. The customers just interact with the supermarket of their choice, by downloading its app and inserting their credit card details, without knowing that Trigo’s tech is at work behind the scenes.

The retailer app sends the bill to customers, sends the chains an inventory list of items that need to be replenished, and alerts employees if items are misplaced on shelves. For example: there is a bunch of bananas that has been returned mistakenly to the apples section.

Fitting out stores with cameras and using Trigo’s service does not require a huge investment, said Michael Gabay. “The return on investment for the store is about 1 to 1.5 years,” he said. Besides improving customers’ shopping experience, the system makes supermarkets more efficient and deters shoplifting, he noted.

Cashiers who may no longer be needed at checkout won’t necessarily have to lose their jobs, and could instead be employed to better serve customers as they shop, he said.

Trigo employs 120 workers in Israel, the UK and Germany and is planning to increase its staff to 200 by year end, the brothers said.

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

Michael and Daniel look so similar they could almost be twins, though Michael, 35, is the elder by three years. “Daniel is younger and better looking,” Michael said with a laugh.

Like Michael, Daniel also served in an IDF elite technology unit. When Michael broached the idea of a checkout-free supermarket to his brother over plates of hummus at a local restaurant, Daniel said the idea wouldn’t work. Then, after mulling over it for a couple of days, he told Michael it was brilliant.

During his service in the Sayeret Matkal IDF unit, Michael said, the motto was “no mission is impossible, everything is possible,” he said. That is the attitude they are bringing to Trigo, he added.

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