New Toshiba Commerce System Offers Retailers ‘Amazon Go At Scale’

For many retailers, the digital shift was hobbled by legacy IT systems and integration complexities. Toshiba Global Commerce Solutions CEO Rance Poehler told Karen Webster that its new commerce platform, Elera, enables microservices that delivers “Amazon Go at scale” for large format grocery stores and retailers.

Retailers made all sorts of quick pivots to their eCommerce sites as the pandemic unfolded, but in-store legacy technology proved to be an obstacle for many of them.

Toshiba Global Commerce Solutions aims to change that with its new Elera system. Unveiled Wednesday (Jan. 13), Elera aims to replace legacy in-store IT systems with a new cloud-enabled solution of point of sale (POS), Internet of Things (IoT) sensors and more than 30 available “microservices” like refunds and promotions to bring stores into the digital-first economy.

Toshiba Global Commerce Solutions CEO Rance Poehler and others on his team told PYMNTS Karen Webster in a conversation following the launch that Elera aims to be “Amazon Go at scale.”

“The Costcos or the Walgreens or the Walmarts are building a big bank of cash and are highly interested in investing in technology to take them where we all need to go post-COVID,” Poehler said. “We’ve lived through COVID with them … and our new platform is something that allows us to expand that end-to-end strategy.”

Elera, whose name derives from the word “accelerate,” offers retailers a unified commerce platform that Toshiba said in unveiling the product will “free retailers to reimagine their businesses without the constraints of traditional retail IT systems.”

The company said that while retailers often come up with innovations, “bringing these ideas to in-store trials, iterating them quickly and rolling them out at scale takes years. As COVID-19 has demonstrated, many retailers struggled to move fast enough to create sustainable operating models for curbside pick-up, contactless delivery and more.”

Enter Elera.

The new system enables faster integration and deployment of frictionless commerce innovations, such as POS, self-service, IoT sensors, computer-vision cameras and smart devices. It also gives retailers access to more than 30 pre-packaged microservices that they can easily turn on or off to experiment with or customize the system and includes more than 400 application programming interfaces (APIs) for custom development and integration. That includes easy integration with third parties like Instacart.

Poehler called the product’s rollout “a big announcement for us because we had a lot of legacy platforms that address certain needs of our customers, but the needs are changing. And as we transform our business, this platform will help us do that. And frankly, it’ll help our customers get a bigger return on investment in a lot of these microservices that we’re starting to deploy and test right now with some of the biggest retailers in the world.”

Aligning In-Store And Digital Experience

Yevgeni Tsirulnik, vice president of Toshiba Global Commerce Solutions’ Digital Platform Products said the system aims to remove the lines between the online and offline. Meaning you are using the same application or you’re using the same interfaces and getting the same user experience whether you shop outside of the store, in-store, near the store or you’re picking up items at the curbside.”

For example, Elera lets merchants send customers’ smart devices the same kind of information a person gets while shopping online but provides it in real time using sensors that detect when someone picks an item from a store shelf, hence the Amazon Go comparison.

“The system will immediately complete the information-gathering and information-harvesting all the way to the insight to create and provide that consumer with valuable information about the item he picked up,” Tsirulnik said. “It could be ingredients, it could be the nutrition or it could be a suggestion” of complementary products to buy.

But beyond just helping customers, the system helps merchants collect the kind of data within a store that they get when someone shops online. Tsirulnik said he believes Amazon Go stores quietly do that to benefit the company while the eCommerce giant plays up the automated shops’ convenience to consumers.

“In my view, Amazon does not tell us that the reason they have sensors in the stores is not to give us that [automated] experience,” he said.

Instead, Tsirulnik said he believes Amazon Go stores are set up to give the company “the same level of data they are getting [about online shoppers] today. Anything you touched in the store is being captured. Every time you stand in front of an item, that is being captured. All of this information can be consolidated into insights.”

He said Elera allows other retailers to capture such data in a system that operates at scale, which Amazon has so far not done with its Amazon Go concept.

Our data-harvesting solution is making sure that the data is truly streamlined all the way to the insights because most of the data today is just flying around [merchants’] heads,” Tsirulnik said. “It’s captured, but not used.”

Say Goodbye To Checkout Lines And Empty Shelves

Tsirulnik said Elera can also help retailers convert the traditional system of standing in line at checkout at the front of the store into a “walk-out” version similar to what Amazon Go sites offer.

“It’s up to the retailer to decide where and how they’re going to [do] checkout,” Tsirulnik said. “It doesn’t have to be the point of sale. You can check out on your mobile. You can check out without touching your mobile. Or you can check out in the environment where all of your items are being added and you’re checking out [via] the front end. Basically, that will transform the way the store looks like.”

Other use cases involve things like using cameras to monitor store shelves to find inventory gaps in real time rather than just calculating when something needs a restocking based on data collected at checkout.

Saving $16 Million Per Second

The Toshiba executives said one of Elera’s best features is that stores can use the system to turn on solutions only for those problems that an individual chain happens to face. And companies can easily turn solutions on or off to experiment with what works and what doesn’t.

Poehler said stores can see a big ROI when they make such changes. For instance, he said one of Toshiba’s large retail customers calculates that every extra second consumers spend in line costs the chain $16 million.

“If we can improve that type of bottleneck … the payback is phenomenal for these big, big retailers,” he said.