Building AFL the store of the future

Henry Ayres
1 January, 24

Sport is nothing without fans and the Australian Football League (AFL) is no exception. AFL tournaments put fans at the heart of operations and supporters are a critical component of players’ success. Clubs are keen to make sure their stadiums are catering for the perfect atmosphere. Each aspect is designed with the fans in mind, from the viewing experience to how they purchase food and snacks during the games.

This is no small feat, but Marvel Stadium in Victoria Australia, has used new technologies to help cut down on wait times and improve sales volumes when it hosts AFL games as well as concerts and other sporting events that attract vast numbers of visitors. For example, in rounds one and two of the 2023 Toyota AFL Premiership Season, AFL stadiums including Marvel Stadium had 765,789 in-person attendees. With this many people in one place, the AFL needed to boost efficiencies, particularly in their F&B kiosk checkouts.

With the need for speed and volume in mind, Marvel Stadium looked to Amazon Just Walk Out technology – where patrons tap their credit card or digital wallet at the entrance to the store, to pick up their purchases and exit with frictionless checkout. Smart technology determines what they took and charges them accordingly.

This process is convenient, but it is also an experience for attendees too, making it quite a talking point – at least in the early days. AFL owned, Marvel Stadium is the first venue in the Southern Hemisphere to install Just Walk Out technology, following in the footsteps of several US sports venues including the Seattle Seahawks and Sounders’ Lumen Field. However, this is the most significant adoption of technology in Australian sports to date.

Implementing such technology – and getting users on board – requires multiple key technology players to build a solution fit for Marvel Stadium’s needs. In this article, I will discuss Daemon’s role in the journey to AFL’s Just Walk Out implementation, and the key stepping stones for success when embarking on a digital transformation project of this scale. 

From inception to reality

Marvel Stadium has been home to several technological innovations, however, the team identified that more improvements could be made, to create the ultimate guest experience. While Marvel Stadium had been cashless for years, they wanted to remove the most time-consuming part of the checkout experience – pulling out your credit card, waiting in line for the cashier to swipe the items, and then paying for it at the end. Large volumes of people meant long queues at peak times. Whilst the introduction of this new technology enhances the experience by quickening the shopping process, this didn’t deter patrons shopping all together prior to the installation.

With more than two million people attending events at Marvel stadium each year, AFL needed a store solution that allowed customers to get the items they needed quickly, and back to their seats.

To understand the best solution, Daemon had a series of discovery calls with everyone involved, to understand the AFL’s needs and vision for this project and work with their partners to refine the technology solution. This process is critical to ensure that all stakeholders at all layers of the business are clear on the transformation that will take place, the role they will play in the project, and agree on the desired outcome. Without this, people can be at various levels of understanding of the transformation process, which can lengthen the time to the result. This is also a crucial element in the process to build trust and rapport with the team.

The overarching problem we identified was that shoppers are becoming more sensitive to time pressures and looking to expedite that transaction process faster, so this technology will become valuable for events when visitors are seated and want to be able to just grab items and go.

Driving stakeholder buy-in

Another crucial component of the setup of Just Walk Out was AFL’s supplier Delaware North. Their supply chain process had to be quickly integrated to meet the demands of the Just Walk Out Store. While Just Walk Out seemed like the obvious fix for the problems identified, it was important that Daemon, as a key partner, could showcase to Delaware North what benefits it would bring them.

By connecting Marvel Stadiums pre-existing EPOS (electronic point of sale) stock and financial reconciliation, Delaware North was able to quickly analyse consumer buying habits and ensure the right products were shipped. This provided them with near real-time sales, and feed data directly into their stock control system. With approximately 1200 orders per week, this is an incredibly vital oversight to have. 

Engineering the design

Even with the right conversations and people on board for this project, this only came to life through Design Thinking, a fundamental piece of the Just Walk Out engineering puzzle. To ensure that this solution met the immediate needs of Marvel Stadium and its fans. My team responded to all changes and feedback at speed. Our agility and expertise enabled us to keep everything lean, fast, and simple and deploy the necessary components promptly.

For example, a key feature of the system is for card authentication to be completed and the gate opened in as short a time frame as possible. The metric Daemon was tasked to achieve by Amazon was less than 3 seconds on average. The system we designed and built kept this figure at an average of 20 milliseconds and contributed to a far better experience for the customer.

In a process that took six months, we were able to reduce the admin throughout the process and provide an agile methodology, the right expertise and engineer and deploy aspects of the store at great speed. 

The AFL’s main goal was to grow the number of concessions that have this technology without compromising on the customer experience. Now that this is a reality, they are already working to see where this can be implemented across other stadiums.

With customers demanding more, at greater speed, Amazon Just Walk Out is helping to pioneer a new experience for fans. Whilst we’re seeing increased uptake in this industry, it won’t be long before we see more stores of the future incorporate this as part of their wider digital transformation strategies.

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