The race is revving up at grocery aisles across America to add “smart” shopping carts that can track what consumers pick up off the shelves and allow them to pay without standing in line.
Built by a company called Caper Inc., the new carts come with a built-in video screen that is essentially a smaller version of the scanners that Kroger has at its checkout lines.
Customers can swipe rewards cards, weigh produce right at the cart, scan the bar codes on items as shoppers plunk them off of shelves, and even put things back and remove them from the tab. The cart gives shoppers a running subtotal of purchases as items are added, helping people stay on budget.
Once clients are done shopping, they can scan debit or credit cards and walk out without standing in line. The only things the KroGO carts can’t currently handle are gift cards, coupons, cash, purchases of tobacco or behind-the-counter pharmacy items like certain decongestants, and U.S. government food aid programs like EBT and WIC.
Winsight Grocery Business reported that Kroger has yet to say when or if it will roll out the smart carts at more of its 2,700 stores. But the company is promoting the new technology in the Ohio store with signage that plays well in the COVID-19 era, reading “Faster Checkout. Limited Contact.”
Kroger has also posted a slick video on YouTube to promote the new carts. Additionally, Winsight Grocery reported that the Ohio supermarket is offering customers 5 percent discounts on Kroger-branded items bought with the smart carts.
Amazon Adds Dash Carts
Meanwhile, Amazon’s new Amazon Fresh stores feature what’s called a Dash Cart, a smart shopping cart with sensors that appear to be even more elaborate than what Kroger’s carts offer.
Like the KroGO cart, Dash Carts have built-in scales to weigh produce, but Amazon allows shoppers to put items in its carts without swiping things past a scanner. Instead, sensors automatically read an item’s bar code as customers place the product into the cart.
And unlike Kroger’s system, Dash Carts have the ability to scan coupons. They can also access shopping lists that customers have prepared ahead of time using Amazon Alexa. When customers finish shopping, they walk through special checkout lanes that finalize their tab without human interaction, bill their accounts and email receipts.
The company is deploying Dash Carts at its new Amazon Fresh grocery chain, which currently has five California stores and two in Illinois, but seems poised for rapid expansion.
Smart Carts Don’t Just Benefit Shoppers
While smart carts promise customers fast, contactless checkout, they also benefit grocers in many ways.
First, skipping traditional checkout lines means stores can hire fewer human cashiers, saving on wages.
Caper Co-founder Ahmed Beshry also told Wingate Grocery Business that New York City-area stores testing the company’s smart carts reported that customers bought about 18 percent more than average during their shopping trips. He attributed the gains partly to the carts’ ability to display buying suggestions in real time based on shoppers’ behavior.
Yevgeni Tsirulnik, vice president of Toshiba Global Commerce Solutions’ digital platform products, recently told Karen Webster that adding smart sensors to stores can also give grocers the kind of elaborate information they collect when someone shops online.
For example, Tsirulnik said he believes Amazon Go stores – which use sensors around the store rather than smart carts to track what people buy – are set up to give the company “the same level of data they are getting [about online shoppers] today. Anything you touched in the store is being captured. Every time you stand in front of an item, that is being captured. All of this information can be consolidated into insights.”
He said that can allow companies to do such things as analyze items customers picked up, then send consumers’ smart devices real-time information about a product or forward suggestions for related purchases. Toshiba recently unveiled a new IT system called Elera that can give merchants such capabilities.
“The system will immediately complete the information-gathering and information-harvesting, all the way to the insight to create and provide that consumer with valuable information about the item he picked up,” Tsirulnik said. “It could be ingredients, it could be the nutrition or it could be a suggestion” of complementary products to buy.