Sobeys has begun testing an “intelligent” shopping cart from Caper Inc. that keeps track of groceries that customers select and enables them to pay without having to go through the checkout lane.
Launched today, the Caper Smart Cart is being piloted by store associates at the 41,000-square-foot Glen Abbey Sobeys supermarket in Oakville, Ontario. New York-based Caper said the partnership with Sobeys makes it the first independent automated checkout company to have a live commercial deployment with a major retailer. The Canadian grocer expects to make the cart available to shoppers in three weeks.
Branded as the Sobeys Smart Cart, the high-tech unit uses artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to scan and weigh products as customers put them in the cart. A touchscreen near the cart’s handle displays a running tally of items selected, and an attached a point-of-sale card terminal allows customers to pay for their purchases right on the cart. Shoppers bag their own groceries, and once payment is completed they exit the store. The Smart Carts are retrieved and returned inside the store.
"While products and customer eating habits have evolved, the in-store grocery shopping experience has remained relatively static for the last 100 years," Mathieu Lacoursiere, vice president of retail support at Sobeys, said in a statement. "This is a unique way for us to test innovative new technologies aimed at enhancing the customer shopping experience and learn how best to make it faster and easier. The carts will also give our in-store teammates more time to interact with customers and answer questions about food and new products."
Mississauga, Ontario-based Sobeys and Caper noted that the cart’s capabilities will evolve beyond frictionless checkout. For example, the cart’s screen eventually will be able to guide customers through the store’s aisles to find products on their shopping list. Screen alerts also will highlight deals and promotions on nearby items as well as make product suggestions for recipes.
In addition, plans call for the cart to transition from "scanning" products to "identifying" them. The companies said the Sobeys Smart Cart includes multiple high-resolution cameras that capture 120 images per second as items are placed in the cart, which enables the cart to learn how to identify each product. Eventually, customers will be able to toss their items into the Smart Cart without having to enter any information or scan barcodes because of the cart’s sensitive weight measures.
According to Caper, the Smart Cart can increase the shopping basket up to 18% through interaction with customers.
"Sobeys is a sophisticated operator that understands the value of shopper experience and is executing quickly to bring customer-focused technologies to stores. Our teams have worked hand-in-hand to bring this initial deployment from concept to live operation in less than six months," said Ahmed Beshry, co-founder and chief business officer at Caper. "Sobeys' mission aligns with Caper's customer-centric belief: Make shopping magic. We couldn't be more thrilled to have them as a partner."
Citing research from PwC Canada, Sobeys reported that 52% of Canadians think the in-store shopping experience would greatly improve if they were able to navigate the store more quickly and easily.
"The best Canadian brands aim to be world-class by thinking ahead and placing bets on unique innovations," Lacoursiere said. "We're constantly looking for new ways to evolve the grocery shopping experience. During the Smart Cart pilot, we will engage with our customers in real time to better understand what inspires them and adds value to their shopping experience throughout the store."
Sobeys didn’t provide further details on the pilot’s timetable and the rollout of the Smart Cart to additional locations. Overall, Sobeys’ retail network includes more than 1,500 food and drugstores in all 10 provinces under banners such as Sobeys, Safeway, IGA, Foodland, FreshCo, Thrifty Foods, Farm Boy and Lawtons Drugs.
Caper said that earlier this year it went live with the Smart Cart at New York-based supermarket retailer Foodcellar & Co. and has since seen strong traction from shoppers, a larger average basket size and improved checkout efficiency. Other Caper grocery retail partners, which are in the pipeline for deployment, include C-town, Met Fresh Market, Pioneer Supermarkets, Gala Fresh Farms and Brooklyn Fare.
A plug-and-play solution, the Smart Cart allows retailers to scale and deploy automated checkout with minimal disruption, according to Caper. "The Sobeys team has incredible execution capabilities,” Beshry said. “When retailers are able to pick up a new technology and execute quickly, it creates the right environment for rapid innovation."