Red Sox affiliate looks to boost concessions with autonomous checkout

Self-checkout shopping has made great strides since Amazon Go cashierless convenience stores launched in late 2016, and technology provider, Standard Cognition, has made its own headway expanding self-checkout convenience to sports stadiums in addition to other retail environments.

Michael Suswal, co-founder and chief operating officer at Standard Cognition, took the stage this week at the CES Hi-Tech Retailing Summit Las Vegas along with one of his clients, Matt Levin, the senior vice president and chief financial and technology officer of Pawtucket Red Sox —  the Triple A team of the Boston Red Sox. They discussed their partnership that is bringing frictionless concessions to sports facilities worldwide.

First pro team to offer autonomous checkout

The Pawtucket Red Sox is the first professional sports team to have an autonomous checkout store, which will be in Polar Park, a ballpark the team is building in Worcester, Massachusetts,  scheduled to open in April 2021.

“We’re really trying to enhance the experience by introducing the technology,” Levin said in describing the cashierless transactions at the concessions area, which will be called Left Field Market. “We as the retailer are bringing the magic to the consumer experience.” 

Larry Lucchino, a Boston Red Sox Hall of Famer and the chairman and principal owner of the Pawtucket Red Sox, decided to partner with Suswal, whose company uses artificial intelligence and computer vision technology, since he wanted to extend the benefits of cashierless concessions to other sports facilities, Levin said.

Suswal said reducing the wait in a concessions line would not only make the fan experience better, but would save lost sales from fans who chose not to wait in line for their purchase. Standard Cognition, which operates one store in San Francisco but focuses on marketing its technology to other retailers, leverages artificial intelligence and cameras to enable consumers to shop and pay without scanning or stopping to check out.

“The vision is beyond this store,” Suswal said, noting that his partnership with Pawtucket Red Sox, called LL Ventures, has already gained attention from numerous other sports facilities asking about the technology.

Unlike other autonomous checkout platforms, Standard Cognition’s does not use shelf sensors and requires cameras only on the store ceiling; it accepts cash or credit; and it can accommodate any existing store layout, eliminating the need to reconfigure an existing store.

No job killer

Despite what many may assume, cashierless transactions does not mean the ballpark will need fewer employees. Instead of serving as cashiers, Levin said the employees will become concessions ambassadors.

Suswal took it a step further, saying people, in general, would benefit, comparing the cashierless checkout technology to modern ride share transportation, which he claims has improved the human relationship between passengers and drivers compared to traditional taxis that have walls between the parties.

Future benefits coming

Lastly, the partnership also provides an opportunity for Standard Cognition to better understand the impact of autonomous checkout on shopper behavior. Suswall, for example, has a partnership with Mars Wrigley, a manufacturer of candy, gum, mints and confections, that could eventually lead to providing retailers with recommendations on how to design stores that balance operational efficiency with customer satisfaction and financial optimization, according to The Shelby Report.

Suswal said he was attracted to the Polar Park project because of the specific vision the Pawtucket Red Sox articulated for the facility, which is a fan-focused experience. He said other retailers have also contacted him with specific user experiences in mind.

Levin encouraged attendees to always  “live through the customer journey” when designing a retail space.