Wegmans, a supermarket chain based in the Northeast, has implemented a combination of technology and human assistance for blind and low-vision shoppers, to make their shopping experience easier across all its 97 stores.
All Wegmans stores are now Aira Access Locations, giving any member of the blind and low-vision community free access to Aira’s service while in Wegmans stores.
Aira, powered by AT&T, is a San Diego-based startup that makes use of wearable technology, AI and live human assistance to deliver real-time visual descriptions for people who are blind or have low vision. Using a smartphone or a pair of smart glasses, an Aira “Explorer” can connect to a remotely located trained professional who can provide assistance on-demand using a live camera stream, GPS, maps and information sourced from the web.
Blind and low vision shoppers can download the Aira app on their smartphone and use it to connect to a remote, sighted agent to access information on-demand. Aira agents can help shoppers navigate the store, find specific items, read labels on products and identify the shortest checkout lines — all at just the touch of a button.
“These agents are highly trained, and I like to call them the ultimate detective,” said Linda Lovejoy, Community Relations Manager for Wegmans in an interview with Retail TouchPoints. “When you’re using Aira, you can be anywhere. If their customer has a question about something, they have to be prepared to answer anything. The agent can pull up the Wegmans app on their computer and look up specific locations within each store to find out what aisle a product is in. If you want to look up recipes and you want to see the ingredients in the recipe, or if you want to look up products we sell, then you can contact the agent.”
Aira Tech Is Latest Customer Service ‘Win’ For Wegmans
The Aira implementation strongly aligns with the way Wegmans has traditionally carried out its in-store customer experience. In 2018, Wegmans was ranked No. 1 on the Temkin Experience Ratings for providing the best customer experience of any supermarket in the country, and they were also on People’s list of “50 Companies That Care.”
“Our biggest goal is incredible customer service,” Lovejoy said. “Our employees are always at the ready to help shoppers — this is not a replacement for our associates looking to help people in the store who want to be helped. There’s our team, as well as Aira. We’ve been on the forefront of looking for services that make the store accessible for everyone.”
The retailer, which celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2016, has been named one of the “100 Best Companies to Work For” by Fortune for 21 consecutive years, ranking No. 2 overall in 2018. This reputation for customer service drove the Aira team to contact Wegmans first.
“They really wanted to work with a company that had an everyday experience with people, which is us — grocery shopping is an everyday experience,” Lovejoy said. “Wegmans was the first team in Rochester, N.Y., to install a public TTY for the deaf back in 1988. The National Technical Institute for the Deaf is housed here at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), so we’ve been working with people with disabilities for a very long time.”