Retail

SmartCart Rolls Into New Zealand Grocery Store

Consumers don’t have to be Amazon Prime members (or Seattle-area residents living near the first Amazon Go markets) to have a checkout-free grocery experience. Shoppers who live in Ellerslie, a suburb of Auckland, New Zealand, can get the same at the local Four Square store — and soon, they may not be the only ones.

The Ellerslie Four Square store is a trial by the New Zealand retail group Foodstuffs, which plans to roll out this computer vision technology, SmartCart by Imagr, to more of its stores in 2019. Imagr itself reportedly aims to achieve significant penetration in markets across Australia, the U.K., Europe and America by 2022.

While it’s hard to put a number on “significant penetration,” it’s probably safe to say that number is more than six — which is how many more Amazon Go stores the eCommerce giant plans to open this year, according to a Feb. 22 report by Recode.

The first Amazon Go store opened to the public just one month ago after 12 months of hype and a year-long delay in the opening.

If Imagr gets its way, it could force Amazon to accelerate its rollout strategy as the two vie for American grocery shoppers — but it’s far too soon to say whether any such race will emerge, or even whether grocery shoppers in America, New Zealand, or anywhere want to shop this way.

It may seem like a no-brainer. Consumers hate friction. Remove friction, get happy customers. But innovations like contactless payments and mobile wallets also took this view and have seen tepid adoption rates, despite constantly adding or improving functionality and perks to get customers excited.

In the end, only time will tell how people feel about this futuristic approach to shopping. It may be that, in this brave new world, consumers will prefer to stick with the brand they know and trust (Amazon) no matter how quickly and widely a lesser-known competitor is rolling out the same experience.

One notable difference, of course, is that Amazon’s cashier-free experience only works in Amazon Go stores. With the right partnerships, SmartCart technology could be deployed anywhere — and without too much effort by retailers either.

The artificial intelligence (AI) solution is retrofitted onto store carts and baskets. It identifies products as they are placed in the cart, eliminating not only the checkout line but the act of scanning barcodes along the way.

Customers must go through a one-time setup process of downloading the SmartCart app and linking it to a payment card, but from that point forward, all they have to do is connect the app to their AI-enabled cart when they arrive at the store and start shopping.

It’s basically the same as Amazon Go, where shoppers scan their phone as they enter, fill their carts, and walk out, receiving an automatic charge to their credit card on file as they exit.

Peter Muggleston, Foodstuffs North Island chief information officer, told CIO that introducing AI to brick and mortar shopping can have a range of benefits — it’s not just fan service for tech-obsessed shoppers.

Certainly, customer experience is a big part of it, said Muggleston. Tech like this removes the worst parts of grocery shopping — standing in line and paying — and turns those pain points into friction-free, invisible experiences.

But more than that, technology like this can help retailers with inventory management, cost reduction and analytics. It can upsell, suggesting recipes or pairings as customers shop — or even potentially delivering tailored promotions along the way, a function that Imagr says is in the works. It can even, said Muggleston, improve customer service.

“This technology will give consumers more options, reduced wait times and variety during their store visits, giving our staff more time to offer their advice and help in other ways,” Muggleston told CIO.

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