Automated check-out systems in supermarkets, where cashiers are replaced by barcode-readers and touchscreen interfaces for taking payments, have become a commonplace fixture in many parts of the world. But today, a startup that’s building what many believe will be the next generation of such systems — computer-vision-powered platforms that monitor what you take from the shelves and automatically tally it up as you are on the move so that you can leave without checking out — has raised funding to continue developing its product and help it connect with grocery retailers that have seen the advances of Amazon Go and also want to get in on the AI action without getting involved with Amazon itself.
Trigo, a computer vision startup out of Tel Aviv that is building check-out-free grocery purchasing systems specifically targeted at large supermarkets, has picked up a Series A round of $22 million. The funding is being led by Red Dot Capital, with previous Vertex Ventures Israel and Hetz Ventures also participating. This round brings the total raised by Trigo to $29 million.
The company is not disclosing its valuation, but says that it has a number of deals in place already with grocery chains, including an unspecified European chain and Shufersal, the largest grocer in Israel.
Shufersal already has plans to implement Trigo’s solution in 280 stores in the next five years, which speaks to the company’s ambitions and traction to date, even at this early stage in its development: The company says that it’s already piloting its camera and sensor technology in stores that are 5,000 square feet, or twice the size of a typical Amazon Go store. It’s, however, still fairly small compared to the size of a large supermarket (35,000-45,000 square feet) or even smaller challenger markets like a Trader Joe’s or a Lidl (20,000 square feet).
As with Amazon Go, Trigo works by implementing a series of cameras throughout a store to monitor shoppers and record what they are placing into their baskets. This is not just about being able to identify items: it’s also a triangulation system to ensure that people are not charged twice for items, and that items are removed from the total if they are discarded before a person leaves the store.
And it’s not just to speed things up, either. It’s to make shopping great again.
“I don’t actually think people really want grocery e-commerce,” Ran Peled, VP of marketing, said. “They do that because the supermarket experience has become worse with the years. We are very much committed to helping brick and mortar stores return to the time of a few decades ago, when it was fun to go to the supermarket. What would happen if a store could have an entirely new OS that is based on computer vision?”
Unlike Amazon Go, Trigo is not tied to any specific company that might potentially compete with the retailers that it is targeting, and the product can be implemented to work with loyalty cards, or without them.
However, given that Amazon has built one of the world’s most valuable companies by being both a simultaneous competitor and partner to businesses, I’m not sure that its competitor status will be a gating factor to the growth of Amazon Go, if it decides to productise it and sell the technology to other retailers… and neither does Trigo.
“The technology behind Amazon Go existed in the industry for about a decade before Amazon Go,” Peled said (Trigo was founded in 2018 by brothers Michael and Daniel Gabay). “But after it launched, it was a moment of realising, ‘Ah, this is really happening!’ ” Meaning, he knew now would be a fruitful period because other grocery retailers would want to get on board, and even if Amazon did roll Go out as its own service, and a service used by other retailers, there will be others who will never work with it, presenting a market opportunity to his startup.
If the endgame is bringing the time spent in the check-out phase down to zero, there are other startups working on alternative ways to reach that. Just last week, Caper raised a round of funding for a system that is based on “smart” trolleys, with sensors attached to grocery carts to take note of items and add them to your shopping bill. While the shopping cart might have the advantage of being able to more closely monitor an individual’s own shopping cart, store-wide systems like Trigo’s will potentially cost less to operate and the software might even be something that can be used on existing in-store cameras.
Interestingly, at a time when patents form one of the key ways that a company defends its intellectual property, Trigo is taking another approach. “We don’t file patents because we don’t want our technology to be public,” said Peled. “We have things that we don’t want anyone to see.” It’s an ironic, if perhaps telling, stance for a computer vision company.
In the rush to build tech solutions to all the world’s problems (and if not problems, at least all the world’s processes), there are bound to be others building further technology to bring grocery stores into the twenty-first century. Trigo presents one route to getting there, making it as much a coveted company for grocery businesses as it is for the companies that provide other services to them.
“We believe that Trigo’s world-leading computer-vision team will be the first to scale this technology globally and unlock the full potential of a true grocery-wide revolution,” said Barak Salomon, managing partner of Red Dot Capital. “The process of manually scanning barcodes for each separate item at check out is outdated and time-consuming. Trigo’s technology is going to save brick and mortar, revitalizing the in-store experience while keeping the best part of shopping alive.”