Mashgin taps computer vision to improve checkout experience

Imagine you’re a fan at a football game or rock concert.

Splurging on sweet and salty snacks is a given – but out at the concession stand there’s a line several people deep, assisted by a handful of harried cashiers.

But there’s also an intriguing little kiosk. You place your tray with a hamburger, hotdog, box of candy and bag of pretzels on a digital scanner, swipe a card, and in a matter of seconds, the transaction is completed. No need to manually scan in each item individually, enter SKU numbers or flip through digital menus to identify items without barcodes.

Most importantly, no need to deal with ratcheting up frustration while waiting in long lines – just focusing on the event you came to experience.

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In the events world, concessions are historically the source of lowest satisfaction rate among fans, and as a result, major venues leave an estimated $20 million every year on the table.

But Mashgin is helping drive the future of the checkout experience at stadiums, arenas, entertainment venues and grocery, convenience and retail stores alike, according to the company. Its computer vision-powered self-checkouts are located in more than 1,000 such locations – 30 of them some of the most iconic venues across the U.S.

“The speed really connects with people at a fundamental level,” said CEO and cofounder Abhinai Srivastava. “It’s so much faster that there’s disbelief – ‘Am I done?’”

Paper, plastic or touchless?

There’s no doubt about it: Today’s consumers don’t just prefer but demand instant gratification. As a result, touchless self-checkout systems like Mashgin’s are growing in prevalence and preference.

According to Grand View Research, the global self-checkout systems market size was valued at $3.44 billion in 2021. The firm predicts the segment will grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of more than 13% through 2030.

This growth has been fueled by the COVID-19 pandemic – at the height of which maintaining social distancing, reducing queue times and offering products off-premises were a must – as well as the increased cost of retail space, shortage of skilled laborers and consumer demand for more personalized experiences, according to the firm.

“The global pandemic accelerated the adoption of touchless technologies, but consumer behavior has turned them into the baseline expectation,” said Mashgin CTO and cofounder Mukul Dhankar. 

A spate of companies are competing in this new market: Abto Software; UK-based Autocanteen; Proppos, a computer vision company specializing in food recognition; and Dishtracker, a market leader in German-speaking regions that claims to reduce self checkout from 27 seconds to just 3.

Transacting in seconds

Mashgin, though, claims to have the world’s fastest touchless self-checkout system. Relying on nine 3D cameras reconstructing “real life things in real time,” it identifies items from any angle and instantly rings them up in a single transaction, Srivastava explained. The system doesn’t require barcodes, RFID tags or consistent packaging to work. Consumers place their items on the scanner, pay and go – in 10 seconds or less, according to the company.

Mashgin rings up multiple items in half a second and has an identification accuracy rate of 99.9%, the company says. The system increases transaction throughput – or number of transactions per second – by as much as 400%. What’s more, the company estimates that its technology saves consumers more than 33 years of time wasted in line.

Mashgin technology integrates with loyalty systems, allows customers to pay for gas at convenience stores, and facilitates cash payments. The company touts its ability to accelerate checkout lines, reduce wait time and increase impulse buys (those tempting candy bars, drinks and travel-sized chips purposefully placed at checkout).

VP of marketing Toby Awalt pointed out the system’s unique ability to rapidly build baseline profiles of new items. This is critical, he said, as not everything has a barcode – and some items like fruit, vegetables or sandwiches never had a barcode to begin with.

An avocado, for instance, is placed on the machine’s scanner, photographed from all angles, and saved to a database – all this occurring within just seconds. “It takes a few seconds between not knowing an object and knowing it,” Awalt said.

In typical self-checkouts at grocery and convenience stores and pharmacies, such items “couldn’t even be rung up without the consumer going through nine menus,” he said. 

“One of the fun things we’ll do is show people the machine live and say to them ‘Where’s your watch? Let me teach it an object right now.’ And that’s really where you get those ‘Wow’s,’” Awalt noted.

To date, more than 35 million transactions worth $310 million have been run through the Mashgin platform. These at various retail and convenience locations, stadiums, arenas, airports, universities, and corporate and hospital cafeterias. Mashgin customers include ampm, Delek, Aramark and Sodexo.

A technology fan favorite

Notably, Mashgin is helping to boost untapped concession revenue and improve fan experiences across nearly three dozen stadiums, arenas and venues. These include Madison Square Garden and Citi Field in New York City; Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City; SAP Center in San Jose; Ford Field (home of the Detroit Lions); M&T Bank Stadium (home of the Baltimore Ravens), and U.S. Bank Stadium (home of the Minnesota Vikings).

The company also recently added the Honda Center in Anaheim, home of the NHL Anaheim Ducks and host to roughly 130 events a year.

In welcoming fans back to the Center post pandemic, executives recognized that the labor shortage would negatively impact guest experience, explained Angela Leu, vice president of food and beverage finance and business insights. To combat this, two Mashgin kiosks were installed at an underperforming grab-and-go location.

“The machines proved to be a fan favorite,” Leu said. “Lines were shorter and the transaction times faster.”

Recognizing the convenience and shortened wait time, many event-goers returned to the location several times during a given event. The “unexpected surprise” was that sales at the location in October 2021 alone exceeded those of the entire 2019 season, Leu said. 

The Center has ordered several more Mashgins and is in the process of reconfiguring additional locations in the building to place them.

Honda Center VP of technology Jackie Slope praised the “speed, accuracy and ease of setup” of Mashgin’s technology. Its installation and integration into the Center’s tech stack has helped keep the venue “at the forefront of using great technology to improve fan experiences,” she said.

The problem, not the product

Mashgin launched in 2016 and spent six months stabilizing its prototype model, a process that Srivastava described as “one machine in one location for six months, someone babysitting it every day.”

“For a while there, we were not even sure if we could do what we have done,” he said.

By 2019, the company had more than a dozen locations. The following year, amidst COVID-19, it became “instantly profitable,” increasing its sales by 400%, according to Srivastava. A gold winner in the 2022 Edison Awards, Mashgin achieved unicorn status with a $62.5 million Series B funding round in May. The company is valued at $1.5 billion and is building out its team and scaling internationally.

Today, new locations can be launched in as little as 15 minutes, Srivastava said. Getting there required a good deal of trial and error, he noted, while also providing intriguing insights into consumerism.

For instance, around cash payments: The company was surprised to learn that in the U.S., 40-50% of consumers at convenience locations use cash. Mashgin’s initial system did not facilitate cash payments, but once it built in that feature, usage jumped. In one case, they now handle 90% of store transactions, Srivastava said.

With many people unbanked and underbanked, “cash really is their only way of transacting in the economy,” he said.

In addition to consumer adoption – no matter their financial status – he underscored the importance of staff buy-in. And that’s been more than the case, he said. Some convenience and grocery store employees like the kiosks so much that they name them – “Marty,” “Maria” and “Marcia” being a few examples.

“We want to make the system very friendly to them,” he said. “We want them to feel like it’s a tool.”

Ultimately, though, Srivastava emphasized that “we’re not defined by this product – we’re defined by the problem.”

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