Behind the Scenes of LAB288 – How We’re Transforming Our Customer Experience with Disruptive Technology

As one of Australia’s most trusted retailers, Coles is focused on inspiring customers and making their lives easier.

Building trust with customers is at the heart of our success and our disruptive technology team, LAB288, is tasked with understanding the latest trends and working with emerging technologies to revolutionise the shopping experiences of all Australians.  

At LAB288, we’re given the resources and opportunities to leverage the latest technology to enhance every moment that customers engage with us. We identify existing customer pain-points and potential problems, and explore the avenues through which we can improve the end-to-end customer journey.

It’s an incredibly exciting space to work in because what comes out of LAB288 shapes not just Coles’ future, but the way we will all shop in years to come.  

In this article, Amrita Prasad, Disruptive Technology Delivery Principal, Benjamin Meyer, Machine Learning Researcher and Chris Wright, Mechatronic Engineer, share insights on how technology is transforming our customer experience, and what this will mean for the retail industry looking ahead.

How we’re working with emerging technology

Amrita Prasad, Disruptive Technology Delivery Principal

The Disruptive Tech team at Coles continuously develops processes and methods to stay abreast of emerging technologies; both spanning across sectors as well as diving deep into certain areas of interest.

We build our knowledge base and thought leadership around these technologies working collaboratively with stakeholders to explore opportunities across service, supply chain, eCommerce and more. Our goal is to develop low-risk, high-learning trials, and support business leadership to make strategic decisions.

Our innovation methodology, as well as in-house capabilities and wide ranging expertise, helps us to effectively collect and curate emerging technology ideas and trends and use them to enhance the customer experience as well as improve business processes.

Benjamin Meyer, Machine Learning Researcher

Our team consistently finds ways for our customer experience to be enhanced using cutting-edge machine learning and computer vision technologies. We are always working to identify points of friction for our customers and using our expertise in emerging technology Research & Development to develop solutions for them.

A prime example is the use of AI to greatly improve the customer experience at our checkouts. We are currently working on a Fresh Produce Recognition system that uses computer vision to identify produce items at checkout, with the aim of reducing time for our customers and helping them to check out faster!

We draw on recent AI literature to research and develop methods to tackle bumps in the process of checking out and reducing the time it takes. We then evaluate the solutions in our purpose-built supermarket-simulating lab space. The checkout process has evolved significantly over the years, but the most exciting steps in this evolution are still to come.

Chris Wright, Mechatronic Engineer

The customer experience is ever-evolving and the rate at which emerging technologies are being utilised is driving this. In my role as a mechatronics engineer at Coles, I get to be a part of the direction in which Coles applies these technologies as we head towards a frictionless shopping future.

The ultimate goal of the team is to improve the customer experience and reduce or remove customer pain-points, either in-store or through online delivery. The challenges – or as we see them, opportunities – range from optimising supply chain processes to improving and maintaining a high quality of goods and produce, as well as reducing and optimising delivery times for our customers.

This opens many avenues for experimentation and application of emerging technologies in fields such as computer vision, machine learning, last mile delivery and robotics. We are constantly pushing the boundaries of what Coles can do at the forefront of technology to solve business problems and take advantage of opportunities.

Our innovation methodology

Amrita Prasad

Disruptive innovation requires evolving business models and processes, experimental and iterative ‘fail fast, learn fast’ approaches, cross-functional skills and expertise, strong collaboration and continuous access to support and resources. We have this in abundance in LAB288, which enables us to keep expanding the realms of what is possible through technology and innovative thinking.

We nurture and empower multi-disciplinary teams to work together effectively, as well as engage with partners and companies at the cutting edge of technology. Our aim is not just to be future-proof, but to be future-equipped by driving change through innovation.

Benjamin Meyer

As someone with an academic research background, I find that the same methodology and mindset present in academia is applied at LAB288. Innovation is fostered here by enabling the team to approach problems through a research lens. This includes being empowered to pursue our own speculative solutions and innovations, and embracing failed experiments as learning experiences.

This mindset is crucial when approaching complex problems with less established emerging tech, because it is a guarantee that some things won’t work!

Chris Wright

The way we work as a team and the equipment we have access to allows us to rapidly ideate and experiment when a new opportunity presents itself. Knowing that we have the expertise internally and the capability to iterate quickly gives us the ability to apply new emerging technologies to the retail realm.

Our vision for the future

Amrita Prasad

Emerging technologies are, by definition, rapidly evolving and dynamic as they grow and change to meet the growing demands of the real world.

Our team strives to unlock high business value opportunities by leveraging the expertise and support systems within Coles, ensuring incremental value all while keeping an eye on the prize.

Benjamin Meyer

The general mindset of LAB288 encourages curiosity-driven research. This allows us to explore novel technologies that we might not have found a retail opportunity for yet.

Although we work on solutions that can be applied today, one eye is always focused on the future and what may be possible down the road.

Chris Wright

Some of the most fulfilling work I do comes from taking ideas built on emerging trends and making them a reality that not only improves Coles’ customer experience, but may shape the future of retail at large. We aim to provide ever-increasing convenience for our customers with the use of emerging tech in-store, online and via home delivery.

Consumers and technology move at a rapid pace. LAB288 is a thriving hub of discovery and experimentation, with an innovation methodology that seeks to truly unpack potential problems and pain-points to improve the end-to-end customer journey. It’s exciting, inspiring and formative work – and we’re looking forward to what’s next!