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Brief Published: 20 Sep 2018

US Supermarket Taps AI to Better Serve the Visually Impaired

Wegmans has partnered with Aira to help blind shopppers

American supermarket chain Wegmans has partnered with Aira (artificial intelligence remote assistance) to provide blind and visually impaired customers with a substantially improved shopping experience.

The new service uses Aira's app to connect consumers to a remote agent when they arrive in-store, verbally navigating the user around the store and helping them to locate items via live streaming on the shopper's phone camera. The Aira technology also uses GPS, maps and information sourced from the web to help the customer. Free to download, the service is available across all Wegman stores.

Users also have the option of paying for a subscription plan for a pair of smart glasses with an in-built camera, enabling the remote agent to 'see' the store from the user's perspective.

The number of people in the US with visual impairments or blindness is expected to double to more than eight million by 2050 (US Department of Health & Human Services, 2016). Services like Aira are becoming increasingly important in aiding consumer mobility, providing reassurance and offering a more sensorial experience. See our Spotlight Trend The Sensory Opportunity for a deep dive into leveraging the senses to engage consumers on a deeper level.

Roger Tredre, acting head of Retail at Stylus, says: "This move reflects a growing emphasis from retailers on empathetic engagement strategies – in particular, acknowledging the needs of consumers beyond the mainstream."

Other projects to explore include: Assured Living by Best Buy, which helps families take care of their elderly relatives, and lifestyle website Wolf + Friends, which aids parents in designing spaces for their autistic children.

See our report Empathetic Brand Engagement for more on this strategy.