System Architecture for the Largest Chain of Autonomous Stores in Europe


Partnering Żabka to bring to life one of the most innovative projects on the retail market.
Building autonomous stores with Żabka – case study

About this project

Żabka partnered with Netguru to launch a chain of fully autonomous stores. Our role was to plan, design, implement, and maintain the entire system architecture for the autonomous stores. The system was developed to not only integrate components responsible for payments, scanning products, recognizing images, and connecting to a store’s hardware, but also to flawlessly handle new locations. Result: stores are now fully up and running, providing the unique customer experience.

Scope

System architecture
Backend development
Cloud app development
Integrations

Technology

Python
Microsoft Azure

Żabka Polska is currently the fastest-growing chain of convenience stores in Poland.

The company continuously implements new services based on digital solutions, often provided through its Żappka app. Its main functionality is a loyalty program that allows users to collect points for shopping – Żapps – and exchange them for products in Żabka stores or donate them to charity. The application also allows to track parcels in the Żappka Post module or make fast and safe contactless payments thanks to Żappka Pay.

Such initiatives place Żabka among the leaders of digital acceleration in retail.

What are autonomous stores?

Żabka’s autonomous stores are open seven days a week. There are no baskets, no cashiers, no counters, and no employees, so customers just enter, pick up what they need and leave at any time of the day.

The payment for the goods they take is deducted automatically from their payment cards as they leave the store.
A shopper can enter the store using the Żappka app or using a credit card (depending on the location).

There are advanced scanning systems and AI-powered computer vision technology that guarantee a customer will pay exactly for what they buy and can leave the shop quickly, without checking out.

Żabka decided to invest in autonomous stores — with this model, the company can service smaller communities where the traditional shops would be too costly to run, and they make the experience of the end customer much smoother in the process.

In such a saturated market, the idea of autonomous stores has got all the necessary benefits for investment and development of this new solution.

According to Forbes magazine, Żabka overtook Amazon in the European race for contactless stores.

Building autonomous stores with Żabka – case study

About the project

An autonomous store is a highly-advanced technological project. It uses a variety of parameters and the latest technologies to recognize products that a customer picks up from a shelf. The product codes are automatically applied to the customer who pays as they leave the store.

Technology also informs the store manager about stock levels and upcoming replenishment requirements.

Various providers were responsible for delivering different blocks and technologies for the autonomous stores, and the challenge for Netguru was to bridge them in one flawless system.

The role of Netguru

Żabka approached Netguru for support with building their fully autonomous stores.

  • Our role was to plan, design, implement and maintain Żabka’s autonomous store system architecture that would operate the systems (delivered by other providers) responsible for payments, scanning products, recognizing images, and store hardware such as automatic doors, telemetry, and movement sensors.
    In other words, Netguru was responsible for creating the engine that allows all those systems to work together as one ecosystem.
  • The project included building the entire backend communication flow that would integrate all of the building blocks of the stores. It included Żabka’s internal services and multiple 3rd party vendors responsible for the different stages of the shopping experience.
  • We had to integrate data from Żabka, Żabka’s providers, companies working for Żabka, and Żabka’s customers and translate it into a flawless customer experience.

Client expectations towards working with Netguru

  • Deliver a top-notch system architecture and translate it into a flawless customer experience.
  • Provide MVP on a tight deadline.
  • Prove stability of the solution.
  • High performance of the solution.
  • High scalability of the backend infrastructure, able to serve in as many stores as possible, and to numerous Żabka customers.

The scope of our work

  • Creating the entire system architecture.
  • Designing and implementing the cloud infrastructure using Microsoft Azure services.
  • Backend development using Python.
  • Integrations.

We had to build the entire architecture and create software that could scale with new autonomous shops being developed in the same time frames as traditional brick-and-mortar shops.

Building autonomous stores with Żabka – case study

Challenges

Building a pioneer project

We were tasked with building this advanced system from scratch. There wasn’t any pre-existing model on which we could build or learn. The entire format was novel and Żabka was the first to introduce a chain of unmanned stores of such scale and magnitude.

Handling the technological complexity

To ensure customers are checked out automatically as they leave the store in a smooth and transparent manner, we had to design and implement a system architecture that flawlessly coordinated every operational aspect of the autonomous stores.

Integrating a complex dependencies environment

The complex system had to flawlessly capture events from multiple devices and handle them flawlessly.

As the project was evolving and new stores were being added, Netguru was also faced with the challenge of reconciling the development of new features while simultaneously maintaining the existing ones.

Ensuring scalability of an already robust project

The product’s architecture and software had to be built in a way that would allow it to scale quickly.

The system had to be prepared and ready to handle new store locations each year while ensuring stability, efficiency, and ease of maintenance. Defining the roadmap in such a scenario was challenging.

Building a dedicated team of experts

The specificity of the project required the expertise of business-oriented management staff and technological experts with a product mindset approach to partner the client in turning their vision into reality, mitigating risks, and proposing relevant solutions.

Given the project complexity, product and project management expertise at the senior level was required.

Netguru’s approach

A project of this size and magnitude required a careful and systematic approach both from a technology and personnel perspective.

Autonomous stores ecosystem

Technology: in-store systems

To build the systems to run the chain of Żabka autonomous stores, we implemented a thorough plan that we carefully designed in cooperation with the client. It involved four unique stages.

Stage 1: Designing and building the overall system architecture

Based on the analysis of the project needs, goals, and expectations, the client received a proposal with the best available solutions. This took into account the individual product requirements (stability of the system, high performance, and speed) and limitations.

We also responded to the client's business goals (outstanding customer experience) and future plans (scalability).

This first phase yielded detailed tech documentation outlining all the processes within an autonomous store as well as a product architecture able to handle those processes, ready to be developed and implemented.

Stage 2: Planning and developing the infrastructure for autonomous stores

In the next step, the entire cloud-based infrastructure was planned, designed, and implemented using Microsoft Azure solutions.

One difficulty was to provide a highly scalable infrastructure able to serve as many customers as possible in multiple stores.

We decided to implement this complex architecture in Azure.

We carried out an in-depth analysis of the Azure environment to plan an implementation process that would leverage the features and overcome the limitations of the Azure platform.

Subsequently, we prepared and deployed the architecture to the cloud and compiled a set of detailed recommendations for the development team for further work.

Stage 3: Implementing the system and creating an MVP

The implementation phase began with creating an MVP of an application that synchronized the systems responsible for coordinating all the crucial processes in stores.

The delivery deadline was tight, so we used the Agile approach methodology to create the first version of a fully functional product to verify whether the concept was feasible.

The MVP was subsequently tested and delivered within the deadline, ready to be used by customers.

The testing yielded positive results, and we were able to move on to the final step of this process.

Stage 4: Development of the system

This final stage involved developing and implementing the system that is able to handle processes in numerous stores. It yielded the final product.

Technology: entrance systems

Alongside developing the technology for the autonomous stores, we also worked on building the entrance system for the new autonomous shop configuration. It was designed to allow customers to enter the stores using a payment card and is integrated with third-party payment providers.

It was a complex process due to technical limitations from the card providers. This endeavor was successful and Żabka autonomous stores can be accessed using payment cards.

Building a dedicated project team

To handle all the project’s challenges, Netguru built a flexible, self-organized team with all the required competencies and a product-oriented mindset.

Oncall developers were watching over the entire system on an ongoing basis.
Depending on the phase of the project, the following people were involved:

ROLE

RESPONSIBILITIES

Solution Architect

Analyzing customer needs, creating and maintaining technical vision of the product and development practices, creating technical solutions, and gathering and processing high-level technical requirements.

Product Owner

Prioritizing product backlog and ensuring flawless communication between Żabka’s product owners and the Netguru development team.

Tech Lead

Maintaining technical expertise and leading the development phase.

Engineering Lead



Overseeing the delivery process, maintaining the quality of software delivery, creating an engineering strategy for the customer, and ensuring adherence to the best practices in software development.

Backend Developers and DevOps Engineers

Building the product, in accordance with the architectural and functional needs of the project.

Project Manager

Managing all project aspects, including the team and customer communication and deliverables.

PM Lead

Overseeing management, organizing the team, and creating new solutions for maintenance.

QA Engineers

Testing and quality assurance at all stages of development.

The dedicated team to build Żabka's autonomous stores

Results

  • As a result of our long-term cooperation with Żabka, its clients can now enjoy a 24/7 shopping experience in fully autonomous stores.
  • There are currently (July 2022) 50 autonomous stores in Poland and more will be opened in 2022.
  • Żabka secured its leading position in the market and is a pioneer in digital acceleration in retail.
  • With this project, we helped Żabka achieve its KPIs for 2021.
  • The client received a top-notch, innovative solution ready to handle big traffic while offering a unique experience to numerous customers.
  • The system provided is stable, efficient, and easy to maintain.
  • The dedicated team of Netguru experts delivered a working solution on time for the first launch, and later we iterated the product as per the client’s business needs, within a highly-dependent environment.
  • Both the product’s architecture and software can grow as fast as a network of traditional shops and is ready to handle new locations.
  • The client was provided with a self-organized team of top technology experts and business-oriented management staff ready to handle the most complex technology challenges and proactively propose new solutions wherever possible.

Collaboration highlights

  • As Żabka’s technology partner, Netguru is currently further developing and maintaining the chain of autonomous stores.
  • We are also securing the future, creating more and more efficient maintenance processes and providing a stable partnership through supporting the client with their current needs.
By building one of the most innovative projects on such a large scale, Żabka took up a grand challenge. We are honored to be the technological partner of one of the boldest and most important innovators in the retail industry.


Netguru as our technology partner helped us to build the biggest chain of fully autonomous stores in Europe. They’ve created from scratch a custom product, respecting our fast go-to-market strategy. Netguru experts understood Żabka’s business goals and thanks to their value-oriented approach we elevated retail customer experience to the whole new level.
Paweł Grabowski  Head of unmanned solutions at Żabka (Żabka Future)

Paweł Grabowski

Head of unmanned solutions at Żabka (Żabka Future)

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