McGill University and Alimentation Couche-Tard launch unique laboratory store to propel retail industry and customers into the future

Partnering with Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc., the new retail innovation lab at McGill’s Bensadoun School of Retail Management will enable ground-breaking research and test innovations, including frictionless technologies
Published: 14 January 2021

McGill University and Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc. announce their partnership in the launch of a retail innovation lab at the Bensadoun School of Retail Management—a live testing ground for innovative and frictionless technologies that address the retail sector’s challenges of the future. In a joint effort to transform customer experience at a critical time for retailers, a world-class university and a global retailer are coming together to create one of North America’s first live, open laboratory stores. Located on McGill University’s downtown campus, the lab is currently open at reduced hours and for a limited number of customers in store until local public health authorities deem it safe to operate at full capacity. All Couche-Tard stores, including this lab, follow public health guidelines and enforce thorough hygiene and sanitation procedures to protect employees and customers.

Quick Facts

  • One of Canada’s first retail laboratory stores open to the public
  • One of the first retail laboratory stores in North America in which a university and a retailer have partnered to advance research in retail management
  • One of the first frictionless stores in Canada (Couche-Tard Connecté section)

“By combining artificial intelligence and retail management, this retail innovation lab at the Bensadoun School of Retail Management will allow our researchers to develop new initiatives and technologies to improve the customer experience for the retail sector with the help of industry partners,” said Professor Morty Yalovsky, Dean of McGill’s Desautels Faculty of Management. “We are excited to welcome one of Canada’s largest retailers, Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc., as the first industry partner of our lab to help shape the future of retail during this pivotal moment in history.”

“This new store on the McGill University campus is a unique demonstration of our commitment to find new ways to make our customers’ lives a little easier,” said Deborah Hall Lefevre, Chief Technology Officer, Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc. “At Couche-Tard, we are always searching for innovative solutions that improve the experience for our customers in our stores. By having a live laboratory, we are confident that the research projects and technologies successfully tested at the lab may eventually be implemented in some of our 14,220 stores across our global network,” she added.

Inside the lab, a Couche-Tard Connecté section is specially designed with frictionless technologies to allow autonomous and contactless checkout. Using an app, customers can unlock the door to walk into the Connecté section, pick up items and leave. The items selected will be recognized in real-time, and payment will be processed automatically in the app. A first in Canada’s convenience store sector, the frictionless store will allow Couche-Tard store team members to spend more time on service, speed up in-store visits, and make its customers’ lives a little easier every day. A frictionless option is also becoming increasingly desired by retail customers during the pandemic.

The lab is led by two research directors at McGill: Professor Maxime Cohen of the Desautels Faculty of Management and Professor James Clark of the Faculty of Engineering. Governed by a joint steering committee, preliminary research themes will involve helping customers make healthier, more sustainable choices, and finding the right balance between personalization and privacy in the shopping experience. Researchers will use state-of-the-art artificial intelligence methods, while ensuring stringent data privacy and confidentiality protocols, to improve demand forecasting and customer recommendations, as well as virtual reality to make it easier for customers to find what they are looking for. In addition to enabling ground-breaking research, the lab will allow McGill students to deepen their knowledge through on-site experiential learning in an innovative commercial environment.

“We are proud to deploy this new store with McGill’s Bensadoun School of Retail Management, and in doing so, contribute to developing the next generation of entrepreneurs, offer a differentiated customer experience with the latest technologies, and provide an even more rewarding and safe work experience to our current and future employees,” said Sophie Provencher, Vice-President Quebec West – Operations, Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc. “Through this partnership, we will build on the great customer service our store team members provide every day, by making their jobs a little easier and giving them more time and opportunity to delight our customers,” she added.

“COVID-19 will continue to have a significant impact on retailers, especially with regards to the traditional in-person customer experience,” said Professor Saibal Ray, Academic Director of the Bensadoun School of Retail Management. “As society progresses into our ‘new normal’ of physical distancing, it is increasingly important for researchers and students to study the evolving shopping experience of the future.”

With the new lockdown in the province of Quebec, Couche-Tard is committed to provide an essential service to the population and support the communities where it operates during these difficult times. In this global pandemic context, the frictionless technologies in the laboratory store on the McGill University campus become even more relevant and provide a safer way for people to purchase daily essentials.

The lab is funded by the Bensadoun Family Foundation and Bensadoun School of Retail Management Founders Circle, of which Alain Bouchard, Founder and Chairman of the Board of Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc., is a member.

Click here for a video and click here for supplementary footage of the retail innovation lab.

About McGill University’s Bensadoun School of Retail Management:

Founded in Montreal in 1821, McGill is a leading Canadian post-secondary institution with 300 programs of study and over 40,000 students from over 150 countries around the world. Opened in 2018 after a donation by the Bensadoun Family Foundation, McGill's Bensadoun School of Retail Management was created to educate and empower a global network of interdisciplinary thinkers and practitioners who research, envision, and prototype a dynamic and successful world of retail. The Bensadoun School is working to be the best source of talent and ideas for a retail industry that enables sustainable consumption and healthier societies.

Learn more about the Bensadoun School of Retail Management

Learn more about McGill University

About Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc.

Couche-Tard is the leader in the Canadian convenience store industry. In the United States, it is the largest independent convenience store operator in terms of the number of company-operated stores. In Europe, Couche-Tard is a leader in convenience store and road transportation fuel retail in the Scandinavian countries (Norway, Sweden and Denmark), in the Baltic countries (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania), as well as in Ireland, and has an important presence in Poland.

In addition, under licensing agreements, more than 2,220 stores are operated under the Circle K banner in 15 other countries and territories (Cambodia, Egypt, Guam, Guatemala, Honduras, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Jamaica, Macau, Mexico, Mongolia, New Zealand, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Vietnam), which brings the worldwide total network to more than 14,220 stores.

Back to top