Electrifying the In-Store Experience With Smart Carts

Neha Ghai
June 19, 2023
Electrifying the In-Store Experience With Smart Carts
  • Self-checkout and its formats are a grocer's friction for improving in-store experience for shoppers
  • 28% of centennial shoppers prefer self-checkout scanner to a cashier
  • Smart-cart technology leveraging computer vision is a game changer for digital savvy in-store shoppers
  • Let's delve into the evolution of the smart cart technology and its feature benefits for shoppers and their exciting in-store experience.

Evolving consumer behavior has profoundly influenced the need for accessible information and convenient online platforms. The growing demand for individualized shopping experiences drives innovation and fuels the competitive landscape in the grocery sector.

The rise of e-commerce has allowed shoppers to access pertinent information at lightning speed with the click of a button. As a result, shopping carts have become more than just well-designed collections of metal frames, screws, bars, and wheels. For today’s digitally native shoppers, shopping carts are synonymous with convenience and efficiency. 

However, as online shoppers transition to in-store experiences, they are often confronted with long queues and checkout processes that can be time-consuming and frustrating. Recognizing these challenges, smart carts have emerged as a promising solution. By leveraging cutting-edge technologies, these advanced carts aim to revolutionize the in-store experience, providing shoppers with quick checkouts and personalized assistance. 

Below we explore the evolution of smart cart technology, delving into its benefits, challenges, and potential to reshape grocery’s future. 

The Evolution of Shopping Carts 

In the 1930s the shopping cart emerged as a popular solution for Americans seeking a more convenient way to transport their groceries. Before the shopping cart, baskets were commonly used, but customers needed more durability and storage capacity. The introduction of shopping carts revolutionized store navigation and helped streamline store operations, customers could leave their carts in designated areas for staff to collect. Furthermore, large shopping cart capacity influenced shoppers to add more items to their order to "fill it up." 

Over the years, technological advancements have transformed various aspects of our lives, including how we shop. In recent times, we have witnessed the emergence of smart carts, which aim to enhance the supermarket experience and address some of the frustrations associated with traditional shopping carts.

Shopping Cart Transformed into a Smart Cart

Fast-forward 90 years, and the smart carts on the market today continue to fast-track the shopping experience. Feature-rich smart carts feature computerized screens (built-in or detachable), enabling customers to scan groceries and make payments without the need to line up at a checkout counter. These smart carts operate as self-checkout on wheels, providing a range of convenient features. Equipped with a built-in scale, shoppers can weigh groceries directly in the cart. A scanner facilitates seamless payments while helping shoppers access item prices and encouraging impulse buys to fill carts. The screen displays promotions and product information, offering interactivity and personalized recommendations. 

Retailers benefit from real-time inventory tracking, intuitive navigation, and increased efficiency and sales by incorporating Internet of Things (IoT) sensors, cloud computing, and artificial intelligence (AI). Smart carts can be retrofitted onto existing carts or purchased as brand-new carts with pre-installed innovative technology. One example of a well-equipped AI-powered smart cart is the Caper cart, introduced in 2017, which offers a plug-and-play deployment without requiring extensive store renovations or infrastructure changes.

Smart Cart Technology 

The modern smart cart is an AI-powered device utilizing computer vision technology to identify products as shoppers place them in it. Equipped with a screen that displays pricing and detailed information about each item, the innovative system enables customers to make payments directly through the cart. 

To initiate the system, shoppers scan a QR code for recognition. As users add products to the cart, an on-cart screen provides guidance, while integrated cameras automatically recognize items and add them to the bill. The screen also offers personalized product suggestions based on the items in the cart and allows for online purchases of items not available in-store.

Additionally, the smart cart is capable of weighing produce placed inside. If there are any issues with machine vision, there is a barcode reader as a backup solution. Some smart carts even feature GPS capabilities, enhancing shoppers' overall experience by providing efficient navigation to desired store sections.

In-Store Features for the Digital Shopper 

Smart carts apply machine learning technology to identify patterns in customer behavior and make personalized recommendations while providing easy checkout options. This convenience and streamlined shopping experience appeal to millennial and centennial shoppers who appreciate the efficiency and time-saving solutions.

Convenience: Smart carts cater to convenience-seeking millennials by streamlining the shopping process. Millennials, accustomed to frictionless online shopping, prefer alternatives to long lines and traditional checkout methods. Smart carts simplify the process by allowing shoppers to wave their phone or credit card in front of the cart's credit card reader, eliminating the need to remove and bag each item individually. This seamless checkout experience aligns perfectly with millennials' desire for convenience in their in-store shopping. Around 28% of centennial shoppers prefer a frictionless self-serve checkout rather than a cashier. 

Coupons and Mobile Device Charging: Smart shopping carts offer additional features that enhance the shopping experience. Carts can be equipped with charging ports, allowing customers to charge their mobile phones while they shop. Furthermore, smart carts provide the added benefit of automatically applying discounts and in-context coupons to the final price, making the shopping experience even more enjoyable for customers. These features cater to shoppers' preferences for convenience and savings, creating a seamless and rewarding shopping journey.

Price Sensitivity: When customers navigate the store, they often need insight into the precise cost of the items in their cart. Cost uncertainty can be concerning for budget-conscious shoppers, but even those who aren't on a strict budget appreciate knowing the accumulated cost of their purchases. The ability to receive real-time feedback from the smart cart's display regarding their spending is highly valued by consumers. This transparency encourages the selection of lower-priced private-label items, potentially reducing the overall value of the cart. However, it's worth noting that private-label items generally yield higher profit margins for grocers, often as high as 15%.

Functional Tech Assistance: Millennials, being accustomed to using smartphones and digital interfaces, find smart carts appealing due to their touchscreen and feature-rich capabilities. However, when adopting new technology like smart carts, some consumers worry about potential malfunctions or difficulties in using them, which could disrupt their shopping experience. To address these concerns, incorporating a help button on the smart cart assures customers that assistance will be readily available wherever they are in the store. This feature instills confidence that store personnel can resolve any issues with item scanning, payment mechanisms, or screen functionality promptly.

Hybrid Format and Shopper Loyalty: In shopping preferences, a hybrid approach is emerging among consumers regarding checkout options. Depending on the number of items purchased, the preference shifts between self-checkout and cashier assistance. For smaller purchases like a single item or a grab-and-go lunch, self-checkout is often the preferred choice, offering convenience and a quick transaction process. However, when faced with a more extensive shopping trip that includes more than 10 items, especially for products or items that may need help with scanning or inputting, shoppers tend to lean towards the assistance of a cashier. 

This hybrid approach allows individuals to tailor their checkout experience to their needs, balancing efficiency and convenience. It is worth noting that while self-checkout offers benefits, such as attracting younger generations and those from the Silent Generation, shoppers who utilize both self-checkout stations and staffed checkout lanes tend to exhibit higher retention rates, according to insights from shopper intelligence firm Catalina. This suggests that a combination of self-checkout and cashier assistance can offer a well-rounded shopping experience catering to different preferences and needs.

Sustainability: Millennials are environmentally conscious and seek sustainable options. Some smart cart solutions focus on reducing waste by offering digital receipts, promoting reusable bags, and providing real-time information on product sustainability. This aligns with the values of millennials who prioritize eco-friendly practices.

Conclusion: In the ever-evolving digital landscape, the importance of loyalty retention cannot be overstated. Leveraging technology becomes crucial for staying ahead in the market. The key to differentiation is seamlessly combining the physical and digital worlds. By embracing hybrid formats that integrate self-checkout options with cashier assistance, retailers can cater to the diverse preferences of shoppers, offering convenience, efficiency, and personalized experiences. This integration of technology enhances the shopping journey and strengthens customer loyalty, paving the way for sustained success in the competitive grocery sector.