Tired of waiting in line for a turn to finally checkout the essentials from the local grocery store? Wait a little longer and we may never have to wait again.
Everyone from the e-commerce giant Amazon to Silicon Valley startups are gearing up to eliminate the very lines at retail and grocery stores. And for the first time – 152 years after it was first invented – the conventional shopping cart may finally be replaced.
Transforming How We Purchase
To do its part in eliminating waiting lines, Amazon has established Go-Stores, which use dozens of cameras, sensors, and artificial intelligence to see what we’ve taken off the shelves and charge people as they walk out. 
Before entering the Amazon Go-Store, however, users must search for a mobile application, and log in with their Amazon account. As they pass through the gleaming turnstile at the door, they scan their personalized barcode from the phone.
Hundreds of cameras track every move, keeping tabs on everything put in the basket. The cameras create a three-dimensional representation of the user. Amazon uses these images to allot a virtual identity, which makes sure that they are charged. Packaged foods such as sandwiches, wraps, and salads bear a unique pattern of circles and diamonds that works a bit similar to a QR code. The software reads that code and knows the user selected a turkey wrap. Weight sensors on each shelf know when they’ve removed something, and when they’ve changed their mind and put it back.
Amazon says it keeps that data just long enough to provide users with an accurate receipt, although a small subset of the info might be retained to further train the algorithms that make everything work.
Smart Shopping Carts
Many startups, particularly those in the Silicon Valley, have geared up to capture a piece of this cashier-less market. Some of these, such as the San Francisco-based Grabango, are closely mimicking Amazon Go-Stores’s technique of using Artificial Intelligence-powered cameras and sensors to fill the virtual cart and charge them as they walk out. 
Others, however, have come up with an entirely solution to the same issue: smart shopping carts. Instead of mounting dozens of cameras and sensors in ceilings, these companies have set them up them in the carts. A built-in scale weighs items, in case users have to pay by the pound for an item. Customers pay by entering a credit card, or by using Apple Pay or Google Pay.
When the customer is done purchasing, he can simply exit the store – a green light on the shopping cart will indicate that their order is complete and that they’ve been charged. If something goes wrong, a red light will light up and a store employee will be summoned to take a look at the issue.
Smart Carts or Go-Stores?
The startups behind the smart carts, including Caper and Veeve, say it’s much easier to add technology to the shopping cart than to an entire store. Amazon’s Go stores rely on hundreds of cameras in the ceiling. The shelves also include sensors to tell when an item is removed. So far, Amazon has focused on small format stores of about 2,000 square feet or less. 
Ahmed Beshry, co-founder of Caper, believes the technology to run Go is too expensive to use in a large-format grocery store. 
Amazon reportedly considered expanding to thousands of the Go stores. But it’s only opened a couple dozen so far, possibly adding credence to the point that they’re expensive to operate. Two of the stores are currently closed for renovations.
Amazon declined to participate in this story. Neither Caper AI nor Veeve have said how much their smart shopping carts will charge, making it difficult to compare the different formats.
Shariq Siddiqui, CEO of Veeve, said he’s finding increased interest from retailers given Amazon’s steady expansion of Go since opening the first store in Seattle in 2018.
“We’re always happy when Amazon is doing something,” Siddiqui said. “They force retailers to get out of their old school thinking.”
The idea of smart shopping carts is surely one for the future and if expanded on rather seriously, it can go on to completely replace the conventional shopping cart.
The socioeconomics of this technology, however, is to play a huge role in the actual implementation of the very idea, so much so, smart carts can either revolutionize how we purchase or it can be another idea that just couldn’t fly.
- McFarland, Matt. “I spent 53 minutes in Amazon Go and saw the future of retail.” CNN Business. 3 October, 2018.
- McFarland, Matt. “These smart shopping carts will let you skip the grocery shop line.” CNN Business. 23 December, 2019.
- “Can smart carts make grocery shopping smarter?” PYMNTS. 22 January, 2019.
- Shah, Saqib. “Caper’s smart shopping cart uses AI to skip checkout lines.” Engadget. 1 October, 2019.