Kroger is experimenting with a high-tech grocery cart that lets shoppers scan items as they go and leave the store without waiting in a checkout line in its latest push to bring more automation into its stores.

The nation’s largest supermarket chain has introduced a line of “KroGro” shopping carts, which were developed by a New York City-based startup and Forbes 30 Under 30 honoree called Caper, at one of its stores in Cincinnati. Shoppers who elect to use the cart are offered a 5% discount on Kroger-branded items.

Grocery and convenience stores are beginning to experiment more with automated checkout technology, which promises to help move more shoppers through the store quickly, cut down on theft and labor costs and improve inventory management. Amazon set the stage with its ‘Just Walk Out’ technology, which leverages ceiling cameras and artificial intelligence to automatically detect items that a shopper picks up and puts in their cart. It’s deployed at 25 Amazon Go locations and also licensed to retailers. A slew of start-ups like Grabango, Standard Cognition and Zippin are rushing to offer similar technology to retailers.

Caper has taken a different approach, focusing instead on tech-enabled shopping carts that it says are more affordable and easier to deploy. It claims to be working with seven of the nation’s ten largest grocery chains, but cited non-disclosure agreements in declining to disclose names. One of its first customers was Canadian grocer Sobey’s, which it did a pilot with in 2019 and will soon be expanding into more stores.

Kroger, in signage at the front of the store, describes the carts as offering a faster checkout experience and limited contact with store employees, appealing to many shoppers during the pandemic. Depending on how the pilot goes, the carts could be expanded to more of Kroger’s 2,750 locations in the future, Caper’s founders say. A Kroger spokesperson did not return a request for comment.

Kroger has not publicly said whether it is experimenting with other automated checkout technology. However, it is bringing automation into its business in other ways. For instance, is has partnered with British online grocer Ocado to build 20 automated warehouses that will help it fill online grocery orders more efficiently. It had also tested self-driving delivery vehicles.

With the smart cart, shoppers pick up the cart and have the option of scanning their loyalty card. Then they scan each item before placing it in the cart. There is a scale for fresh produce and other pay-by-weight items. The screen on the cart will suggest items as they go, notifying shoppers about sales and recommending various items, like a jar of spaghetti sauce in the next aisle if the shopper just picked up pasta. When finished, shoppers pay directly on the cart and are given a green light that lets them know they can leave the store.

“We have a very, very easy to scale solution,” says Caper cofounder Ahmed Beshry. “All you have to do to bring an Amazon Go shopping experience into your store is open a box with our shopping carts.”

Caper declined to disclose the cost of its carts, but said it believes it is significantly cheaper than the automated checkout technology offered by Amazon and other competitors. Those companies have said little publicly about their fees. With Caper, retailers can expect to recoup their investment in the first 12 months, it says, achieved largely through a double-digit increase in basket size as shoppers are prompted to purchase items via the screen on their cart. Caper also does not require retailers to install any hardware or reconfigure the layout of their stores—which can be an expensive headache for those retailers going the Amazon Go route.

One of Caper’s earliest customers, a New York City-based grocery store called Foodcellar Market, was debating installing self-checkout machines at the front of the store. However, it found that Caper’s carts were more affordable. It has seen an 18% increase in basket size since launching in 2019.

Amazon recently came out with its own version of a smart shopping cart, dubbed the Dash Cart, which it has deployed at its eight Amazon Fresh grocery stores. The cart uses sensors and computer vision algorithms to automatically identify items placed in the cart. Shoppers exit via a special lane, which identifies the cart and bills the shopper on the credit card associated with their Amazon account.

Caper’s technology isn’t quite there yet. However, the company says later this year its in-cart cameras and technology will be capable of identifying items as they are placed in the cart without the need for shoppers to scan each item individually.

Source: Forbes