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As grocery stores try to speed up your shopping experience



Alexandra Sagan, Canadian Press

Posted on Sunday, November 17, 201 10:10 am EST

Customers pushing one of the 10 new smart cars in the Toronto Sobes store can scan their items on-site, track their total bill and accept payment, meaning they can skip the cashier or checkout.

Wheels equipped with artificial intelligence are the latest aspect in grocers' efforts to streamline their shopping experience as consumers become accustomed to convenience.

Despite all the achievements found in modern grocery stores, customers are still required to collect their groceries, unload them at the checkout, and then place their supplies in bags.

"This helps to remove some of that friction," said Quakelin Verbey, Sobbs Communications Director.

Grocery announced at the end of last month it bought 10 smart cars that are beginning to pilot the site of Oakville, Ontario.

For now, shoppers using cars must be able to scan every item they put inside. Eventually, the shopping cart, which "becomes smarter over time" will learn what each product is and the company will remove the scan request, Weatherbee said.

The shopping cart also weighs products, maintains order on the total bill and accepts payment. One of the features it lacks is a place to hold a child.

"It really limits the time you go from product to standing belt to bag to customer," Weatherbee said.

Sobis hopes to develop the technology to include missing ingredient recipe suggestions based on what is already in the shopping cart and the ability for customers to send their shopping lists.

The strollers – created by New York-based Capper Inc. that did not respond to an interview request – show a way for grocers to turn to technology to eliminate the need for traditional outcomes.

Amazon debuted its Amazon Go system in Seattle in 2018. Buyers must have an Amazon account and an Amazon Go app that allows them access to the store. Customers pick the products they want and leave them. In-store technology monitors purchases and charges their application.

Amazon now manages 18 of its Go stores in four cities in America – with six more on the way, according to its website. With the acquisition of Whole Food's technology titanium, including its Canadian locations, this concept may one day land in Canada.

Wetterbe said Sobies likes the smart car solution as a result of the ability to add functionality over time.

Loblaw Companies Ltd. quietly ran a similar course last year.

Now in eight stores, customers can use the company's app on their mobile phones to scan items while shopping. The app aggregates all products into a single bar code, which can be scanned by the cashier or self-checked when customers pay.

"There are a few more improvements that need to be made on that product," said Lauren Steinberg, vice president of distribution at Loblow Digital. This includes adding an in-app payment option, not an outcome, which the company plans to use next year.

Walmart Canada switched to a similar system that relies on a consumer's phone this year after testing a handheld device, similar to a wand, that allowed customers to scan products as they cut.

The former scanning and moving system reportedly created frustration for some buyers.

"Most clients want to use their own device, touch their own device, feel their own device," said Alihan Kanji, vice president of format development at Walmart Canada.

When the company started scanning and leaving, he added, they hypothesized that the process would eventually shift to consumer phones.

Buyers at six locations in Walmart Canada in the Greater Toronto Area can now test the program, called Fastlane, through the Walmart application.

The company has already made changes based on customer response.

Customers have suddenly complained that they need to weigh products to give the application a price per kilogram, for example, a bunch of bananas. Walmart has introduced as many products as possible in response per unit so that shoppers can now scan food without measuring it.

Canadians, especially the younger demographic, which is rapidly becoming one of the most important consumer groups, are increasingly expecting a more technologically savvy shopping experience, said Eloel Gregoire, Associate Director for Food and Beverage Reports in Canada at Minel.

"They grew up at a time when they were very attached to their technology – to the extent that this is all they really knew," he said.

"And for groceries to have a competitive advantage or be relevant, they need to be sure to offer an experience that is related to their technology."

But Gregoire said there are benefits to the traffic.

Technology can reduce labor costs in the long run, as it replaces the need for cashiers. Grocers tend to believe they will redeploy staff formerly associated with the shop floor coffers – further enhancing the customer experience.

The data gathered from these applications can help companies learn more about their customers, Gregoire also said.

If smart cars and apps can track customers moving through the store, that information can help grocers improve their schedules, he said.

"I'm just kind of scratching the surface about how they can be used, but of course data is king in retail."

This Canadian press report was first published on November 17, 2019.


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