Tired of waiting in line for your turn to finally checkout the essentials you bought at your local grocery store? Wait a little longer and you 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 You Shop
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 you’ve taken off the shelves and charge you as you walk out. 
Before you can enter Amazon Go-Store, however, you must install an app, and log in with your Amazon account. As you pass through the gleaming turnstile at the door, you scan your personalized barcode from the app.
Hundreds of cameras track your every move, keeping tabs on everything you put in your basket. The cameras create a three-dimensional representation of you. Amazon uses these images to allot you a virtual identity, which makes sure that you are charged. Packaged foods like sandwiches, wraps, and salads bear a unique pattern of circles and diamonds that works a bit like a QR code. The software reads that code and knows you selected a turkey wrap. Weight sensors on each shelf know when you’ve removed something, and when you’ve changed your mind and put it back.
Amazon says it keeps that data just long enough to provide you 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 share in 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 your virtual cart and charge you as you walk out. 
Others, however, have come up with an entirely solution to the same problem: smart shopping carts. Instead of mounting dozens of cameras and sensors in ceilings, these companies have installed them in the carts. A built-in scale weighs items, in case you 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 shopping, 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 problem.
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 comment for this story. Neither Caper AI nor Veeve have said how much their smart shopping carts will cost, 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 shop 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.