Aiming to join the in-store and online shopping experiences, Instacart has acquired “smart” shopping cart company Caper Inc. in a $350 million cash and stock deal.
New York-based Caper’s artificial intelligence (AI)-powered cart enables shoppers to scan items they select off grocery store shelves and pay for them directly via the cart, eliminating the need to wait in line at the checkout area. Instacart said Tuesday that the Caper AI cart will become part of its roster of solutions for retail partners, which includes the Instacart online shopping marketplace, enterprise e-commerce services, fulfillment technology for delivery and pickup, last-mile delivery and other offerings. Caper’s team also will join Instacart’s product and technology bench, bringing hardware expertise.
The Caper Cart uses AI and machine learning to scan products as customers put them in the cart, which has a built-in scale for items sold by weight. 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.
Besides tracking purchases, the cart’s screen can display product recommendations and promotional offers — based on the contents of a customer’s cart — as well as provide wayfinding capabilities to help shoppers navigate grocery store aisles more easily, according to Instacart and Caper. Shoppers, too, can scan their loyalty card when checking out directly from the cart.
San Francisco-based Instacart said it eventually plans to integrate Caper’s technology into the Instacart app and its retailer partners’ e-commerce websites and apps, which will enable customers to create online shopping lists and browse recipes ahead of time and check off the lists as they shop.
The technology also will bring benefits to Instacart personal shoppers who pick and pack online orders, since they will be able to use the Caper cart to find products more efficiently and bypass checkout lines, Instacart noted.
“Over the years, Instacart has continued to expand its retailer enablement services, helping brick-and-mortar grocers across North America move their businesses online, grow and meet the evolving needs of their customers. As we look ahead, we’re focused on creating even more ways for retailers to develop unified commerce offerings that help address consumer needs across both online and in-store shopping,” Instacart CEO Fidji Simo said in a statement. “That’s why we’re thrilled to welcome the Caper AI team to Instacart. We share the same goal of equipping retailers with new and innovative technologies that help them succeed in an increasingly competitive industry, while also providing customers with the best possible experience. We’re excited to bring Caper’s leading smart carts and smart checkout platform to more retailers around the world, as we all reimagine the future of grocery together.”
Caper marks Instacart’s second acquisition this month. On Oct. 7, Instacart announced the purchase of FoodStorm, whose order management software-as-a-service will allow Instacart retail partners to offer order-ahead catering services online.
“We’ll continue to deepen our investment in our suite of enterprise technology services, unlocking new solutions that help power the comprehensive e-commerce platforms of retailers across North America,” Simo added.
With Caper’s technology, Instacart said it will be able to support retailer partners no matter how their customers choose to shop. Caper noted that its smart cart offers grocery and other retailers a plug-and-play, autonomous checkout solution that doesn’t require a store retrofit or operational overhaul to deploy quickly. Also, for small-format retailers such as convenience stores, Caper offers the Caper Counter, which uses cameras and a weight sensor in a “smart box” to auto-detect items placed on a counter, providing self-checkout service for on-the-go customers.
The companies noted that Caper’s smart carts were the first carts in the United States approved by the federal government’s NTEP (National Type Evaluation Program), which certifies that it can accurately sell items priced by weight and measures, such as produce and bulk items.
“I’m incredibly proud of the business we’ve built and the technological leap forward our products represent for the entire grocery industry. The powerful technology we’ve created is intuitive for customers, easy to deploy for retailers of all sizes, and creates a physical retail ecosystem that never existed before,” commented Lindon Gao, co-founder and CEO of Caper. “We share Instacart’s vision of enabling grocery retailers with new innovations that create step changes for their businesses, and we’re proud to now be joining forces with Instacart to develop even more solutions that help bring the online and offline together for retailers.”
Caper’s smart cart already is being piloted at U.S. grocers such as The Kroger Co., Wakefern Food Corp. and Schnuck Markets. Sobeys Inc., one of Canada’s largest food and drug retailers, has rolled out the Caper Cart since piloting the technology in October 2019, while New York-based supermarket retailer Foodcellar & Co. went live with the Caper Cart earlier in 2019. Auchan also has deployed the smart carts in France and Spain.
Branded as “KroGO” by Kroger, the Caper Cart first began testing at a Kroger-banner store in Cincinnati in October 2020.
“Kroger is proud to be leading the industry in the adoption of new innovative technologies, including Caper AI smart carts, as well as partnering with Instacart on other industry-leading innovations like Kroger Delivery Now,” stated Stephanie Jenkins, vice president of strategic partnerships at Cincinnati-based Kroger. “These offerings are advancing Kroger’s thriving seamless ecosystem and providing our customers with more ways to shop with us through strategic collaborations.”
St. Louis-based Schnucks sees Caper’s technology as a plus for both its in-store customers and Instacart personal shoppers filling online orders in its stores.
“We’re excited for Instacart to join forces with Caper AI to help scale their technology and make it more accessible,” Bob Hardester, chief information and supply chain officer at Schnuck Markets. “Caper AI’s smart carts are the most technologically advanced carts out there. We believe the ability to place items in the cart naturally — without having to scan barcodes or weigh items — will be a game-changer, especially for Instacart shoppers who shop on behalf of customers. We’re proud to continue working with Caper AI and Instacart to unlock even more innovative solutions that reimagine the in-store grocery shopping experience at Schnucks stores.”
Overall, Instacart partners with more than 600 North American retailers — including 175 local, regional and national grocers— and delivers from almost 55,000 stores in over 5,500 cities in the United States and Canada. Its online shopping and delivery service is accessible to more than 85% of U.S. households and 90% of Canadian households.