Will smart shopping carts transform the shopping experience at Albertsons?

Discussion
Photos: Veeve/Business Wire; Getty Images/tupungato
May 20, 2022

Customers at a few dozen stores owned by Albertsons will have the option of using smart shopping carts that allow them to pick products and walk out of the store without having to stop at a checkout.

The grocery giant in November first tested the carts at two of its stores located in California and Idaho, reports CNBC. The decision to scale the pilot was based on results at those locations.

The carts, manufactured by Veeve, a retail tech startup founded by two former Amazon execs, “offer a sophisticated, yet simple self-checkout experience for people who value flexibility and time savings,” Alyse Wuson, senior director of omni experiences at Albertsons, said in a statement. “Our goal is to enhance the grocery experience no matter how our guests choose to shop, and Veeve’s technology brings the ease and integration of e-commerce right to the grocery cart.”

Albertsons is not alone in testing whether the high costs of smart carts can be justified by consumer usage in stores.

Instacart last October acquired Caper AI, a startup whose smart shopping tech has been tested by Kroger, Sobey’s and Wakefern. The delivery service’s CEO Fidji Simo said of the deal, “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.”

Amazon in 2020 introduced its Dash Cart to help customers with smaller orders (two bags) check out their purchases without having to stop at a register.

Albertsons has been engaged in a number of omnichannel initiatives in recent years with the goal of meeting its customers where and when they want to shop.

The grocer launched FreshPass, an Amazon Prime-like subscription service, that offers members unlimited free deliveries on orders of $30 or more. FreshPass members either pay $99 a year or $12.99 a month.

The supermarket chain operator has expanded its use of micro-fulfillment centers for online orders as well as in-store robots, automated grocery pickup kiosks and other new omnichannel technologies. Albertsons, last September, announced that it had entered into a deal with a video platform to engage customers through shoppable cooking videos on its site.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Are American consumers ready to use smart carts to do their grocery shopping in big numbers? What do you see as the opportunities and obstacles to adoption?

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"I like the idea of smart shopping carts, but they will have a long learning curve."

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21 Comments on "Will smart shopping carts transform the shopping experience at Albertsons?"


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Mark Ryski
BrainTrust

Wide scale adoption is still years away, but it is coming. Improving the shopping experience – including reducing check-out time – is definitely worth focusing on. However the cost of implementing this technology and slow shopper acceptance will mean that it will take time. The important thing is that retailers like Albertsons are actively testing and deploying the technology as this is the only way to refine and improve it. Ultimately, the cost of deploying and maintaining this technology will be a key factor in how fast and far this technology goes.

Bob Amster
BrainTrust

I will save words. I am with you.

Neil Saunders
BrainTrust

My local Albertsons is a dump. And it’s far from the only one. Adding a high-tech shopping cart doesn’t change any of that. This goes back to the lesson of getting the core right as well as doing fancy things with technology. As for the cart itself, it’s certainly useful as unloading, scanning and repacking can be a point of friction in grocery stores. It is an expensive solution, however, and there are less costly concepts. Last weekend we went to Wegmans and used a phone app to scan groceries and load them directly into bags in the cart. We then paid and walked out. Very simple.

David Spear
BrainTrust

Neil, I completely agree with you. Gotta get the core right or everything else is just fodder and actually complicates things even more. We sent people to the moon on less technology than what is in today’s smartphones. So a simple app for scanning, pricing and checkout can be highly useful, extremely affordable for the retailer and super seamless for the consumer. Sometimes less is more!

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust

Several of our local Albertsons-owned stores were remodeled not too long ago. The new design was primarily signage and changes to product adjacencies. The product is merchandised well but it’s still the grid design we all grew up with. Easy to shop but not very interesting.

Ken Morris
BrainTrust

Maybe I’m not getting it, but why isn’t this a phone-based app? It hearkens back to land lines or giant cordless phones with antennas on top (see also every Seinfeld episode). The phone is the POS terminal of the future, not an expensive cart with wheels that will end up at someone’s home, totaled by a can of dropped beans or run over by someone in the parking lot. Also, a lot of grocers outsource the cleaning and management of their carts. These are not the kind of carts you want to hose down at closing time. These have got to be very expensive carts, so if just one of them disappears that would probably wipe out any margin for the day.

David Naumann
BrainTrust

Good points Ken! While the smart shopping carts are less expensive than equipping the entire store with smart cameras, there is a less expensive option of scan and go using the consumer’s phone as the POS. I am surprised that more retailers haven’t deployed the more cost effective option of scan and go on consumers’ mobile devices. Maybe I am missing something.

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust

Observing consumers in stores, what they do, where they go, how they interact with product and associates, etc. is part of my job. Have you ever spent quality time watching shoppers try and master the self-checkout? It’s still hit or miss. I like the idea of smart shopping carts but they will have a long learning curve. And I’m with Neil and his comment about the condition of the stores. It would be nice to see grocers spend more time on the in-store experience. A good looking, modern and well-lit environment will make interacting with new technologies even more attractive to shoppers.

Jeff Sward
BrainTrust

Frictionless self checkout at the grocery store has always sounded like a great idea. Except — it is rarely actually “self checkout.” I have stopped using it at my local supermarket because there is always a glitch — always. A bar code won’t scan so the flashing light calls over a human being who pushes some buttons, scans their own code, and then the process resumes, usually with the flashing light having some kind of additional role in the process. So when these “smart” processes are actually smart and consistent and frictionless, I’m all for it. But in the meantime, it’s usually easier to go through the human line.

Brandon Rael
BrainTrust

There has been a significant focus recently in the grocery industry on the checkout experiences. While the self-checkout, smart carts, and “Just Walk Out” Amazon technology innovations are welcome, there are fundamental and foundational operational industry-wide grocery store elements that need to be improved to drive outstanding customer experiences.

In a crawl/walk/run approach to innovation, the smart carts are geared more towards the further end of the innovation curve. The grocery in-store experience is being transformed and has to evolve to the changing consumer behaviors. Consumers are seeking value pricing in our inflation-fueled economy. In addition, with the rise of health and wellness, the conscious consumer is seeking healthy alternatives when they go to their local grocery store.

David Slavick
BrainTrust

For tech-savvy shoppers in communities with heavy penetration of younger shoppers, it makes sense to opt for a smart cart. There is no question that contactless shopping, kiosk ordering at fast food and self-checkout options are all or in part being explored to reduce staff and salary expense. Convenience? I guess so, but am I bagging my own groceries? I assume so. My least favorite Jewel-Osco here in Chicago suburbs is under-staffed and the staff are wearing shirts that encourage me to “ask about FreshPass.” I’m underwhelmed.

Rich Kizer
BrainTrust

I can mainly see customers stopping to check the accuracy of the price of goods with the cashier. This could slow things down.

Dave Wendland
BrainTrust

Good idea? Yes.

Game changer? No.

I agree with others who have said that getting the core right, creating excitement in the space, and improving the overall experience should be job number one.

Ananda Chakravarty
BrainTrust

The Veeve carts are convenient and can make a real change to D-I-Y shopping in the store. However, it misses on cost — in the range of $6k for stores that typically buy $200 carts. There needs to be some added benefits to justify the retailer price and rapid adoption. The industry will take some time to acclimate to using these types of carts because the trend is slow and costly.

storewanderer
Guest
1 month 14 days ago

At least with Amazon Fresh these carts cannot go outside the store or even close to the doors. They will lock up 25 or 30 feet from the door.

Gee there’s another friction point for someone who would like to push their cart outside….

John Karolefski
BrainTrust

Will smart carts transform the shopping experience at Albertsons? Hmm. No. Smart carts have been around in labs for a while, so it will be instructive to see if shoppers use them. I suspect some folks will try out these carts, but most won’t because they will be intimidated by the technology (think seniors) or they don’t want to be bothered.

I like the idea of smart carts though. But it will be years before widespread use happens.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest

…tested the carts at two of its stores RetailWire readers, welcome to Small Sample Size Theatre….
Though my opinion(s) will likely find resistance from those who love to complicate life, I’m going to keep them simple:

  • I don’t think these will really work (i.e. great, or maybe great in theory, but in practice there will be a multitude of problems from breakdowns to losing them to people just not understanding how they work).
  • I don’t know that there’s really much demand for this; sometimes, of course we don’t realize we want something until it’s there, but oftentimes we just don’t….
Kai Clarke
BrainTrust

Smart shopping carts are a great idea, but are clearly not being embraced by the American retailers or shoppers. From cost to accuracy to implementation, there are many issues that have to be addressed on top of the acceptance by consumers.

storewanderer
Guest
1 month 14 days ago

I’ve used the Dash Cart at Amazon Fresh multiple times. I like it. It shows prices as you take items in and out of the cart.

However I notice I am typically the only customer using one of those carts.

Albertsons/Safeway needs to focus on its terrible pricing and marginal quality fresh departments. This is the wrong thing to worry about.

Richard Hernandez
BrainTrust

I just wanted to post this as no one has mentioned it yet — where do I put my kids? Many parents use the basket to carry their kids and I see this plastic unit not being able to handle that at all. I am guessing there would be a split amount at stores?

Karen Savage
Guest

It’s true that customers want a speedy and convenient shopping experience, especially in grocery. In a recent survey, we found that 27% of respondents desire an independent and autonomous shopping experience. In this case, the smart shopping cart would be helpful. In terms of transforming the shopping experience, working to speed up the check-out process and making the experience more independent is great, but using a mobile-based solution would be more cost-effective for grocery retailers to integrate. Plus, many consumers already shop with their mobile device in hand, meaning a mobile-based solution would be more convenient to shoppers.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"I like the idea of smart shopping carts, but they will have a long learning curve."

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