Sobeys puts eggs in Smart Cart basket

The grocer gives the skinny on how it will pilot the first-ever intelligent shopping cart in Canada.

Sobeys-smartSobeys is piloting a Smart Cart in an Oakville, Ontario location as it looks to smooth over points of friction in the retail journey.

The grocery banner has integrated Manhattan-based startup Caper Smart Cart technology into 10 carts for the pilot. These “smart” shopping carts are powered by deep learning and computerized vision to identify items as they’re added to the cart: the technology scans and weighs products as they’re placed inside, displaying a running tally of purchases and letting customers pay on the spot.

The Caper Smart Cart includes multiple high-resolution cameras that capture 120 images per second as products are placed in the cart, which allows the device to learn how to identify each grocery item. Supported by the cart’s sensitive weight measures, customers will eventually be able to toss their items into the cart without having to enter any information or scan barcodes.

Mathieu Lacoursiere, VP of retail support at Sobeys, tells strategy that regular shopping carts have remained unchanged for decades, and that the brand wanted to get rid of the inconvenience of taking a product off the shelf, placing it into a cart, removing it at checkout, and finally placing it back into a cart or shopping bag.

To develop the program, he says a small team at Sobeys spent some time brainstorming ways to ease checkout friction. He says the brand looked at developing an app, enhancing self-checkout, or checkout-free options, “but what we like here is that it’s all inside the cart, solving pain points.” (Amazon launched “Just Walk Out” tech in some its retail locations, allowing users to swipe in with their app and just walk out with their goods)

“We are just starting the pilot phase as a means of finding new ways for its customers to shop,” Lacoursiere says. “The Caper Smart Cart is the banner’s way of trying to speed up innovation.”

The first few weeks will be dedicated to training in-store staff to make sure when it officially offered in store, they will be ready to promote the cart and ensure a smooth experience, he says. Staff interactions with the cart will also be augmented with signage.

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He says the retailer initially hypothesized that the cart technology would appeal to younger customers, but its research shows that shoppers of all ages are open to the technology. This spurred Sobey’s decision to launch the cart in the Oakville location, which has mature shoppers of a higher net household income.

There is no specific end-date for the pilot and the brand will adjust the program based on customer surveys, Lacoursiere says.

When it comes to the shopping journey, Lacoursiere says the cart is one among many checkout options that are available, in addition to self-checkout and additional lanes to speed up the shopping process.

Eventually, Lacoursiere says, the brand is going to integrate promotion functionality into the device, along with a means to wayfind products and input grocery lists (other versions of the Caper cart include built in touchscreens to recommend recipes, or highlight specials).

He says it’s a matter of prioritizing needs based on the shopping experience. The future carts will also evolve from “scanning” products by barcode to “identifying” ones without having to punch in a product code.

The brand says this is Canada’s first-ever smart grocery cart. In China, 7Fresh recently deployed its own autonomous shopping carts that follow the user around its stores and allow them to shop hands-free.

Fun retail fact: In 1937, Oklahoma grocer Sylvan Goldman developed what became the common shopping cart, an idea inspired by a folding chair, and he used actors and models in store to build interest. It was originally called the “folding basket carrier,” a solution for women who were shopping with small baskets. The he double-decker innovation allowed more purchases to be made at once.