Smart Shopping Carts Latest Tech for Shop and Go Experience

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Smart shopping carts use image analysis and artificial intelligence to identify and bill for items placed in a cart.

Kroger is trying out smart shopping carts that do not require store renovation or complicated infrastructure overhaul. They are the latest in the line of many different technology approaches to let shoppers buy merchandise without checking out.

The carts let shoppers move about the store as they normally would, placing items in the cart for purchase. The cart is equipped with camera sensors and image analysis and tallies what’s been put in the card. Once done shopping, the shopper leaves and is automatically billed.

Certainly, the grab and go shopping concept is not new. However, the Kroger smart shopping cart and others using a similar approach have some interesting nuances.

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To start, the need for such carts is accelerated thanks to COVID-19. Many shoppers want to avoid waiting in crowded checkout lines for long periods. Technology like this lets a customer bypass the lines.

Another COVID-19-related issue is that grocery stores want to protect their cashiers by limiting contact with customers at traditional checkout lines. Here again, the smart carts (like other technologies) eliminate the customer-cashier interaction. (Many stores want to reduce or eliminate cashiers for cost-cutting reasons. But that’s a different issue.)

Another differentiator compared to other grab and go technologies is that the individual carts are smart. In contrast, approaches like the Amazon Go Grocery concept and its Just Walk Out Shopping experience rely on store-wide technology deployments. Specifically, Amazon Go Grocery uses computer vision, sensor fusion, and deep learning to automatically detect when products are taken from or returned to the shelves. The solution keeps track of those items in a shopper’s virtual cart. When they are done shopping, they just leave the store. The items are charged to the shopper’s Amazon account.

Smart shopping carts technology

Smart shopping carts solutions do not need wide-scale changes to stores. Rather than deploying extensive technology everywhere in a store, smart shopping carts can be deployed on a cart-by-cart basis. Surely, some of the same back-end technology would be needed as with the store-wide solutions. But here, the deployment of cashier-less shopping can be deployed in a limited manner, and a store gets the benefits right away.

In its effort, Kroger has partnered with Caper, which offers an AI-powered smart cart technology that lets shoppers skip the checkout line. The Caper Cart allows for a plug-and-play deployment in retail stores. No store renovation or complicated infrastructure overhaul required; just integrate and launch.

According to the Washington Post: “Kroger now has 20 branded smart carts built to know what customers place inside. The wireless buggies can tally up your total, make recommendations, and allow you to pay for groceries directly on the cart.”

Adding to the technology buffet

Many other technologies are already in use or being developed that provide a way for shoppers to select items and skip a checkout line.

For instance, many merchants now offer lower-tech app-based solutions that do not use AI. A prime example of this is the Starbucks App, which lets customers order and pay for their purchases using smartphones. Many grocery store chains have their own app that relies on the shopper scanning the bar code of every item they place in their cart for in-store purchases. And many fast-food chains offer apps that let customers order and pay via smartphone.

Caper Cart and Amazon Go Grocery deployments are on the higher end of the technology spectrum for a grab and go shopping experience. Other companies offering cart-based solutions include Veeve, Tracxpoint, Amazon (with its smart Dash Carts), and others.

Like many leading-edge developments, the technology may introduce legal or regulatory problems. Shopping solutions obviously must protect customer data. One issue is that these emerging solutions are leading to cashless shops and stores. Last year, some cities and states enacted laws banning cashless stores.

Salvatore Salamone

About Salvatore Salamone

Salvatore Salamone is a physicist by training who has been writing about science and information technology for more than 30 years. During that time, he has been a senior or executive editor at many industry-leading publications including High Technology, Network World, Byte Magazine, Data Communications, LAN Times, InternetWeek, Bio-IT World, and Lightwave, The Journal of Fiber Optics. He also is the author of three business technology books.

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