This story was originally published in Planet Retail's IT & Supply Chain newsletter on Thursday 6 March.

The shelves in any modern grocery store are meticulously planned according to category management decisions, taking into consideration customer demand as well as seasonal influences or promotions. To optimise shelf layout, retailers deploy sophisticated analytics and planning tools and create detailed planograms, using advanced technologies such as 3D graphics or virtual reality to obtain the best results.

Augmented reality is helping Tesco manage its shelves.

Despite the best efforts on the planning side, shelves can often look quite different in reality. Products can be misplaced or even missing from the shelf completely. Daily changes to the layout, in response to shopper demand, seasonal or weather influences, as well as promotions, are often not being executed, at least not in a timely manner.

To cope with the challenge, Tesco is now working with IBM’s research lab in Haifa, Israel, and testing a new mobile app for use by its store personnel. The solution is based on IBM’s Augmented Reality Shopping Advisor, an app – initially designed to be used by shoppers – which identifies specific products among a row of goods. It will then display relevant information above the image and rank items according to a number of criteria such as price or nutritional value.

Tesco staff at a pilot store near London can now use their tablets or smartphones to photograph the current status of the aisles, including the quantity and siting of goods. The system then employs image recognition technology to identify the products and augmented reality to superimpose information from the retailer’s database and online resources and detect deviations from the plan. If detected, it can then alert staff to take corrective action.

Such technology could be extremely useful in supporting Tesco’s efforts to make its stores more attractive and to create a compelling shopping experience for its customers. The solution should ensure products are always adequately stocked and easy to find for shoppers, which can only help to secure sales.

It can also make store processes more efficient. Managing shelves is a tedious routine currently executed manually by scanning barcodes. This app could remove much of the drudgery inherent in the task and boost efficiencies while doing so. If proven successful, Tesco is expected to roll out the solution quickly across its store network, as is its habit with beneficial innovative technologies.

Planet Retail will be exhibiting on stand 277 at RBTE 2014.

In addition, Helen Slaven, managing director of Planet Retail, will be presenting a session on 'Global Trends & Forecasts 2014 – Drivers of Change in International Retail' as part of the RBTE 2014 conference programme.

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