back to article Japanese supermarket watches you shop so AI can suggest more stuff to buy

A Japanese supermarket has started analyzing customers' in-store behavior and feeding it to a generative AI to drive an avatar that makes real-time suggestions about stuff you might want to buy. The Aruk Mitajiri supermarket, in the city of Hofu, started a trial of this arrangement yesterday, wielding tech from Fujitsu that …

  1. Neil Barnes Silver badge
    Flame

    when it spots a man shopping for products consumed only by women

    Ah, it seems Sir is purchasing female sanitary products. Perhaps Sir would like directing to the beer aisle?

    Ok, a very old joke... but to be honest, enough of this crap! We shop for products we need and I suspect no-one enjoys the psychological manipulation (ooh, I can smell fresh baking! Put essentials/staples at the back of the store so we have to tramp past everything else! Rearrange things on a regular basis so you have to search the whole store!). Having some avatar whispering in my ear is going to send me online permanently, not encourage me to remain in the store and buy more crap I don't need.

    (Perhaps Sir would like... maybe Sir should consider... would Sir like... Why is Sir heading to the firearms section?)

    1. jgarbo
      Facepalm

      Re: when it spots a man shopping for products consumed only by women

      Hardly manipulation, unless one's a half-wit. How often have you forgot something on your shopping list then remember it when you get home? I have. An AI servant that reminds me of an accompanying or complementary product would be handy. Remember, you don't to follow the AI, unless you're a half-wit. Then you do need help...

      1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

        Given that all supermarkets are doing it, there must be a sizeable amount of half-wits.

      2. FatGerman

        Re: when it spots a man shopping for products consumed only by women

        Except it wont' work like that if the US/UK supermarkets start doing it. They're not in the habit of doing anything that helps customers unless they're making a killing off it. You'll be bombarded with what are essentially ads for promoted products. If you've ever done your supermarket shop online you'll have seen it already. Rows and rows of "suggested for you" that you have to scroll past to get to the thing you actually searched for. Shopping is a chore. The last thing I want is some annoying robot nagging me about why I really want to buy a fucking fruit cake.

        1. Woodnag

          Re: when it spots a man shopping for products consumed only by women

          Try Walmart. Had video ads for years pushing crap while you wait to pay.

    2. FatGerman

      Re: when it spots a man shopping for products consumed only by women

      Would Sir like a chocolate bar? Oooh. Ooh. A nice, smooth, moist chocolate bar. Oooh. Slips down easy Sir, the wife will never know Sir. Ohh. Suits you Sir

    3. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

      Re: avatar whispering in my ear is going to send me online permanently

      Some online shops have sequence like:

      "I want to check out please" leads to the "special offers" page.

      "I don't want any, I want to check out" leads to the "perhaps you forgot" page.

      "Stop @$!|\|6 about and let me check out right now" leads to the "these items are really good" page

      "Last chance or I walk away" lets you complete the order.

      There is a bad chance that going elsewhere just puts you at the start of a similar sequence.

      I have a barcode scanner. It would be really handy to scan empties into a file and xclip the list to a web site. If someone could figure out a way to do it with blockchain and an LLM perhaps it would happen.

      1. martinusher Silver badge

        Re: avatar whispering in my ear is going to send me online permanently

        One reason why Amazon is so successful is that it doesn't try to push the envelope. You go to the site, One Click your order and leave. No need to push for that bit extra because it knows you'll be back. No need to waste programmer resources on meaningless popups or overlays. No need to gibber advertisements at you. You're ;p0wned.

        The power, reach and need for advertising is vastly overrated. Mostly all it does is annoy.

        1. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge
          Pirate

          Re: Amazon : One Click your order and leave

          You sir are clearly in the 'I've signed up to Prime and I will get my monies worth out of it' brigade.

          If you are not on Prime, you get pages of 'free delivery tomorrow if you sign up for Prime' stuffed in your face.

          That is a very good reason for avoiding Amazon unless there is no choice.

        2. This post has been deleted by its author

      2. 43300 Silver badge

        Re: avatar whispering in my ear is going to send me online permanently

        Fucking Amazon - "sign up for 30-day Prime trial and get FREE next day delivery" (other delivery options via a very small 'decline free delivery' link at the bottom'.

    4. Arctic fox
      Thumb Up

      @Neil Barnes Re: "so you have to search the whole store!"

      Indeed. In fact I will often go out of my way to avoid stores that do this in order to avoid having to go out of my way if I shop in them :).

  2. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    "whether it can detect what remains of my hair"

    It might well be able to do that. What it will deduce is that you should be encouraged to go to the pharmacy aisle to discover hair treatment products, hair regrowth products and assorted coloured dried frog pills.

    No pseudo-AI we have now has ever deduced anything factually interesting about human behavior.

    The day I stop seeing online ads for stuff I have just bought is the day I'll begin to grudgingly start accepting that "AI" might just be becoming useful, maybe.

    Because if AI was actual AI, it would record the fact that I bought a UPS two years ago, and would start showing ads for replacement batteries in three years from now. Frightening as that may be, it would be useful.

    But no, today's AI knows that I bought a LED flashlight, so it proposes batteries because duh, but it also proposes more flashlights.

    Useless.

    1. Roland6 Silver badge

      Re: "whether it can detect what remains of my hair"

      >” What it will deduce is that you should be encouraged to go to the pharmacy aisle to discover hair treatment products, hair regrowth products and assorted coloured dried frog pills.”

      Given how supermarkets like to move things around, we can expect the robot system to be behind the times, so you could actually be in the pharmacy aisle, just that the AI has you in the wine section …

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: "whether it can detect what remains of my hair"

      > The day I stop seeing online ads for stuff I have just bought is the day I'll begin to grudgingly start accepting that "AI" might just be becoming useful, maybe.

      In a similar vein of clearly unintelligent recommendations...

      A few years ago (circa mid-to-late 2010s), Amazon was recommending books for pre-school children to me on the basis that I'd already bought books aimed at the same age group.

      Thing is, I'd bought those books from them several years prior, so the kids I'd bought them for originally were no longer the age they were back then. You'd have thought they'd have been taking that into account by that point.

      This is the sort of thing you might have expected from an early recommendation system circa the late-90s/early-2000s. Not the sort of creepily accurate recommendation you might have assumed a company like Amazon- who you'd expect would have invested huge amounts in this sort of thing- would have reached twenty years later.

      Then again, this was around the same time that Amazon recommended Machiavelli's "The Prince" to me, apparently on the basis that I'd purchased a large green Lego baseplate.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Within a few years we will need floating point to number the new Circles of Hell.

  4. ChoHag Silver badge

    > customers increasingly want "engaging, consumer-friendly experience"

    Remember who the customers are here. It's not you. It's the brands, including the supermarket itself.

    You're the consumer part.

    Honestly I'm running out of reasons to even use the supermarkets. Crap overpriced products, staff are underpaid and run so ragged they couldn't be friendly if they tried now being replaced with robots, psychological manipulation. Now this.

  5. Tim 11

    if there was a bot that could direct you to a specific product...

    If there was a bot that could direct you to a specific product you're actually looking for in a Tesco gigastore, that would be extremely useful.

    I realise conventional wisdom is that the more I have to hunt round to find what I'm looking for, I'm more likely to pick up other stuff I don't want, but in reality I'll probably give up and go to Lidl where there's only 4 aisles

  6. FatGerman

    AI can do it faster and cheaper.

    Also I'm pretty sure it's still legal to punch a robot in the face, so in some senses this will be less annoying than having a human do it.

    But still too annoying for me to want to go into a shop that has it.

    1. Roland6 Silver badge

      Re: AI can do it faster and cheaper.

      >” Also I'm pretty sure it's still legal to punch a robot in the face”

      I value my knuckles, perhaps it will become advisable to visit such supermarkets after Cricket practice…

  7. localzuk

    Next step?

    Fancy shops are great and all, but they're still a shop - with expensive real estate costs, operating costs etc...

    Surely the next big step is fully automated grocery shopping? Your house learns what you eat/drink, and orders a shop weekly with everything you are missing/need. With or without a human confirming the list is OK.

    That'll be the next big marketing opportunity.

    1. Roland6 Silver badge

      Re: Next step?

      Given what kids like to eat, looks like that’s a lifetime’s supply of margarita pizza and lemonade…

      1. localzuk

        Re: Next step?

        "Would you like me to order you some vegetables?" "No" "I'm sorry, that is an unacceptable answer. Ordering your mandatory kale now"

  8. Ashto5

    New Horizon ?

    I can see it now

    We suggested you buy X.

    You didn’t buy it therefore you must be intending to steal it.

    Let’s prosecute the customer.

    No that wouldn’t happen, I mean it is not like it happened in another shop like a post office.

    1. OldGuit
      Devil

      Re: New Horizon ?

      "Let’s prosecute the customer.

      No that wouldn’t happen, I mean it is not like it happened in another shop like a post office."

      Ah yes, the same Fujitsu folk behind the almighty disaster that resulted in jail sentences for the innocent and the loss of innocent lives but refused to accept any liability or responsibility. I would trust them as much as I would trust Vladimir Putin to be a socially responsible global citizen.

      1. Lurko

        Re: New Horizon ?

        On the plus side, this latest "innovation" is Fujitsu, so it's not going to work, and shopkeepers won't pay for something that doesn't work. I used to work for a large EPOS company, it was a real eye opener to see what a bunch of skinflints retailers are, and how they'd run rings round the software vendors to ensure that they weren't trapped into paying for any future upgrade, and couldn't be forced to stop using a product just because the manufacturer didn't intend to support it.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: New Horizon ?

        You know, Putin IS a socially responsible global citizen. Earth is overcrowded and he does his part in thinning the herd.

  9. trevorde Silver badge

    More stuff I can't find

    Every time I go shopping, my wife always ensures that there's at least one item on the list which I can't find eg extract of Himalayan yak's foot. I don't need some AI suggesting more things I can't find.

  10. lvm
    Devil

    Now where did I see the idea of ad-slinging avatar?

    Oh yes, the Zero Theorem https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cs8GxPO55tM

  11. Lil Endian Silver badge
    Flame

    "engaging, consumer-friendly experience"

    Well, then you have far too many self-service checkouts and not enough traditional ones.

    I call bullshit. You don't want "engaging, consumer-friendly experience" at all, you want lower overheads.

    And like self-service, your new upselling tech can just fuck off.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Gotta be cute

    It doesn't say what form the avatar will take, but if it's a cute robot that bows and will guide me to the sushi discounted 50% before closing time, I'll take it.

  13. John H Woods Silver badge

    "launch a solution ..."

    So they have a planned date to launch the solution regardless of the outcome of the trial? Is that why Horizon was such a success?

  14. that one in the corner Silver badge

    In praise of the Old Ways of the Tech-and-related-arts Community

    In days gone by the community had a sense of humour and instead of talking about "punching robots in the face" this would see this as an opportunity to Hack The Planet (one small step at a time).

    Hofu Hackers, now is your Time To Play!

    Gather your friends and family to create a steady stream of people through the supermarket, all behaving in the same not-quite-as-expected fashion. Can you convince the AI Assistant to send everyone looking at rubber household gloves over to the olive oil ("Customers found it made the experience smoother")? Does it seem to be judging people by appearance? Let's find out: everyone wear something that looks like the supermarket uniform and see what happens when you all buy one bottle of antiperspirant and nothing else. It is looking at how people act around the shelves? Have half the group hopping down the cereal aisle and picking up branded corn flakes, the other half skipping and picking up discount own-brand cornflakes.

    Ah, for the heady days of the Improv Everywhere group and classics such as Best Buy uniform prank

    1. FatGerman

      Re: In praise of the Old Ways of the Tech-and-related-arts Community

      I stand fully corrected. This is indeed the entirely proper response. Have a beer for cheering me up.

  15. goodjudge

    What I don't understand is how it's going to prompt / direct you?

    It specifically says "in-store" customers. With an app at home it's obvious, but surely you don't walk round a real Tesco with the Tesco app open on your phone? Are they going to put chips and speakers in the basket / trolley handles? Or a cacophony of tannoy announcements? Or have Japanese supermarkets dispensed wholly with staff and everyone has to carry those little scanners to tot up their bill as they go, which will be adapted to also issue the instructions?

    1. Sam not the Viking Silver badge

      Re: What I don't understand is how it's going to prompt / direct you?

      You should be careful about suggesting anything which some 'marketing-person' might think is a 'good idea'.

      "Are you sure you have enough beer, sir?" they never ask.

    2. an it guy

      Re: What I don't understand is how it's going to prompt / direct you?

      So, I've just done that wander around with the app open

      The Tesco app has a "shop in store thing that tells you which aisle a product is. Handy when one item can be on aisle 8 (dried, long life), 16 (fridge, sort of long life), and aisle 18 (because why would it be there? No idea

      Use the app to circumvent needless walking and get out with the lowest price possible

  16. The Central Scrutinizer

    Human note to AI

    Kindly fuck right off ...

  17. This post has been deleted by its author

  18. Plest Silver badge
    Flame

    This from a country where the sales of adult nappies are now outstripping sales of infant nappies due an uncared for and unwanted aging population. A country that considers anyone, especially women, to be a little overweight to be publicly shamed and humilated for being gross and fat. A country that refused for so long to acknowledge it's brutality in many conflicts over the last 100 years. A country that considers the sexualisation of young underage girls in media to be acceptable in real and animated forms.

    Sorry but my respect for Japan died long ago and this latest moronic idea will do little to revive it.

  19. Tron Silver badge

    AI is the Emperor's New Clothes.

    Surveillance of customers doesn't translate into greater sales. It's the same with all those 'directed ads' based on what tech companies know about you. I've been offered things based upon this every day for decades on every web site I go on. The only ones of any value are the simple ones: 'A customer who bought this, also bought this'. Amusingly, I am often offered things that I have bought (and will not need another one of for some years) or things I have examined, but have chosen not to buy. For all of this, AI tech providers, GAFA and the like, charge some mug.

    There won't be privacy issues with this in Japan - it has more CCTV than China - and I'm sure Fujitsu knocked out the traditional flow diagram of Byzantine proportions, explaining how it works. It's just that AI is not magic. Big data is not magic either. Number crunching through tonnes of obsolete data doesn't allow you to foretell the future.

    When I was a kid I bought a cardboard football pools calculator. You looked at past results, turned some cardboard disks, and it told you what would happen next. OK, it didn't. It couldn't handle complexity or contexts (just like AI). So all this AI and Big Data does, is digitise my cardboard pools predictor. Because it is sold by a big tech company, everyone is using it and it is called the future by muppets on TV, everyone buys it. Nobody gets fired for buying IBM, er, AI do they?

    So really, all this is just corporate lemmings doing whatever keeps them employed. It doesn't work. It never will. Nobody cares. Just implement it, high fives, get paid and move on.

    As for warmth and competence. I'm not sure you can digitise Japan's customer service. It's called omotenashi. They have well staffed stations, trains and shops - if you are from the UK, Japan is Utopia. On the other hand, Microsoft and Google may own the patents for the opposite of digital omotenashi.

    1. Woodnag

      Re: AI is the Emperor's New Clothes.

      "I am often offered things that I have bought (and will not need another one of for some years)".

      The ad slinger may well know this. But the company that's being charged for the ad certainly won't...

  20. Johnb89

    As long as it doesn't say 'Yirashaimasai!' in that voice

    After some time shopping in Japan the constant Yirashaimasai! as one enters a shop can be wearing, at least to a foreigner. Then again, robots and AI are meant primarily to be annoying.....

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Seafood section suckers

    I want to see a talking tentacle rise up and help me buy my whale sushi fish fingers…

  22. Dan 55 Silver badge
    Alert

    Hello Mr Yakamoto and welcome back to The Gap

    And so another bit of Minority Report came to pass.

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Being a GOM (Grumpy Old Man)

    anything suggested to me immediately goes either to the very bottom of my wish list OR onto the 'Do Not Buy' list. [1]

    That said, I see the impulse shoppers out in force should I dare to venture into a supermarket at the weekend. They usually have a gaggle of offspring annoying the hell out of everyone else and picking all sorts of [redacted] off the shelves. In many cases, the parent ignores it. These are the shoppers that would fall hook, line and sinker for these ads.

    [1] The same goes for almost everything that manages to get an ad past my defenses. Come the revolution, second on the list for termination (after politicians) is anyone associated with the Ad slinging and data slurping industry.

  24. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge

    customers increasingly want "engaging, consumer-friendly experience"

    No we effing don't. We just want to get in, make our already determined selection and get out of the hell that is almost all supermarkets at weekends.

    The person who wrote that can go suck on this [see icon]

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