- Sobeys is piloting a new smart cart technology from Caper beginning Oct. 23 at its store locations in Oakville, Ontario, according to an email sent to Grocery Dive.
- The technology hopes to reduce friction during the checkout process by scanning and weighing products as shoppers select them and place them in the cart. A display tallies the purchases and allows the customer to pay on the spot without waiting in line.
- The smart carts use AI and machine learning technology and will eventually include additional features like helping shoppers navigate the supermarket to procure items on their shopping lists.
Sobeys trial of the smart carts appears to one of the grocer's first steps in experimenting with the tech to improve the customer experience. In addition to adding a shopping list and store navigation feature, Sobeys hopes to tap multiple high-resolution cameras to evolve from scanning products to identifying products. This will enable the cart to "learn" about different products so that customers can drop their items in the cart without needing to first scan them or enter information.
These moves could help Sobeys make in-roads on overall shopper sentiment. According to research from PwC Canada cited by the retailer, 52% of Canadians feel their shopping experiences would be improved if they could navigate stores more quickly and conveniently.
If successful, Sobeys may be ahead of its competitors because smart cart adoption remains low. While retailers are trying to find ways to use technology to mitigate friction, especially during checkout, cost is a hurdle. Caper's co-founder and CEO Lindon Gao told TechCrunch that carts could cost a retailer "hundreds of thousands" of dollars — a large investment even if grocery margins weren't already so thin.
The lead may not last long though. Caper, which raised $12.5 million in venture capital in September, said that it has contracts with a number of North American grocery chains and plans to deploy more than 1,000 of its smart carts this year.
And for those retailers unsure of smart cart innovation, there are other tech players with the same mission of frictionless checkout that are gaining funding, although they often carry a heavier price point. Trigo recently announced it raised $22 million in funding. Its checkout-free tech uses computer vision and AI to visually assess items taken off the shelf while allowing quick payments through a variety of options, including a mobile app feature that lets consumers walk right out of the store. U.K. supermarket chain Tesco recently invested in the startup as part of a pilot project.
Other solutions to address checkout-related pain points include self-checkout kiosks and scan-and-go, as well as just-walk-out technology that can be found at Amazon's Go stores. Nearly three-quarters of consumers prefer self-checkout technology over engaging with store associates, representing a 10.6% increase from last year, according to SOTI.