The Kroger Co. has piloted a temperature-controlled cart that houses curbside pickup grocery orders for self-service customer retrieval.
General Motors subsidiary BrightDrop said this week that Kroger will be the first customer to introduce the Trace Grocery eCart (click here to view video) into its e-commerce operations, starting this year. The electric-powered cart enables store associates to put orders directly into the unit and station it curbside for customers to pick up their groceries. After providing digital verification, customers open the designated drawer and take their items.
Plans call for the first Kroger Co. supermarkets to receive Trace Grocery eCarts later this year. BrightDrop said the upcoming rollout follows a pilot program completed with Cincinnati-based Kroger at stores in Lexington and Versailles, Ky., in which the retailer saw “a noticeable improvement” in the customer and associate experience. BrightDrop reported that the cart decreased time to serve by up to 34%.
“COVID has driven a dramatic increase in online grocery shopping, and fulfilling these orders profitably has become a major challenge for retailers of all sizes. With the Trace Grocery, we saw an opportunity to help companies like Kroger tackle these challenges head on,” commented Travis Katz, president and CEO of Palo Alto, Calif.-based BrightDrop. “As online shopping continues to grow, BrightDrop is committed to developing innovative solutions to help our customers keep pace. The Trace Grocery is a perfect example of this.”
The electrically propelled Trace Grocery eCart can move up to 350 pounds of groceries. (Photo courtesy of BrightDrop)
Trace Grocery is designed to speeding fulfillment of online grocery pickup orders and bring added convenience to consumers and efficiency and cost savings to retailers, according to BrightDrop. The company noted that, today, online order fulfillment entails many steps within the store to identify, gather and store products before bringing them to customers. Trace Grocery streamlines that process by allowing store associates to load orders into the eCart, easily roll it inside and outside of a store, and give customers access without an employee present.
Temperature management in Trace Grocery allows grocers to store pickup-ordered items at food-safe temperatures for up to four hours, BrightDrop reported. The eCart also features propulsion assistance to move up to 350 pounds of groceries, reducing physical strain on workers, as well as auto-braking to stop the electric motor, which matches an operator’s walking speed of up to 3 mph.
Nine compartments segment items by order, temperature and product type. Trace Grocery also sports weatherproofing to handle variable temperatures and outdoor elements, BrightDrop said. The unit is compatible with most grocers’ online fulfillment apps, providing more flexibility for customers when retrieving their purchases. Full-scale availability of Trace Grocery is expected in 2024, with advanced customizable capabilities planned later on, according to the company.
BrightDrop added that Trace Grocery, developed on the BrightDrop Trace Platform for last-mile fulfillment, marks the company’s first product created for online grocery and retail order fulfillment. An emerging GM business, BrightDrop specializes in commercial delivery and logistics with a roster of electric vehicles, smart containers and software aimed at decarbonizing last-mile deliveries and reducing congestion for improved efficiency and sustainability.
Amid the surge in online grocery shopping in recent years, pickup has become the preferred fulfillment option for consumers — and the more profitable avenue for grocery retailers. According to OSF Digital’s 2022 Grocery Omnichannel Retail Index, 78% of grocers analyzed offered curbside pickup in 2022, up from 68% in 2019, before the pandemic. The study found that 98% of food retailers offering curbside have designated a reserved pickup area in store parking lots.
Store pickup remains a linchpin of Kroger’s omnichannel formula. As of the fiscal 2021 year-end, 2,257 stores provided online grocery pickup, and over 2,500 stores offered delivery. Including click-and-collect and delivery via Kroger Delivery, third-party partners such as Instacart and Kroger’s Ship direct-to-home service, the company covered 98% of households in its trade area with e-commerce services. Digital represents a more than $10 billion annual business for Kroger, and about 18.5 million households engaged online with the retailer in 2021.
Though the nation’s exit from pandemic restrictions has led to more shoppers returning to stores, Kroger has continued to enhance its digital experience with new tools, according to Chairman and CEO Rodney McMullen.
“In pickup, we unveiled new technology that improved wait times 20% and expanded capacity based on customer needs,” McMullen told Supermarket News in a recent interview. “In delivery, we continue to introduce key initiatives that expand our reach and shorten delivery times.”