Instacart launches connected stores so you can run your own grocery store

Instacart employees have a smartphone app with scanning tools at their disposal to fulfill delivery orders – but what if regular shoppers could use them too? The grocery delivery service plans to bring regular everyday shoppers to “connected stores,” where they would use a rolling smart cart with built-in list support, order deli meats or baked goods, find items and pay in self-service.

The star of the show is Instacart’s upgraded “Caper Cart,” a smart cart that can detect which items on your list are placed in – based on computer vision and weight – and tick them off in your app. It has a large touchscreen that syncs your grocery list from your app and a connected payment terminal so you can pay yourself without waiting to use a terminal. Previous versions are in service at select Kroger stores, but they were made before Instacart acquired Caper AI a year ago.

Multiple sensors and cameras detect products as you slowly lower them into the cart.

Multiple sensors and cameras detect products as you slowly lower them into the cart.
Image: Instagram

The new cart is thinner, lighter and can hold 65% more products, according to Instacart. The company says it’s the only smart cart that can recharge its batteries by stacking carts instead of having to replace batteries. They also accept over-the-air software updates. But if you can’t get one of these carts, you can also use Scan & Pay in the app to verify yourself.

On the surface, this sort of thing defeats the purpose of Instacart’s delivery service: to remove the inconvenience of having to drive to the grocery store yourself. But as the pandemic wanes, demand for online delivery services is shrinking and hurting the bottom line of companies like Instacart, Uber and DoorDash.

Small grocers don’t have the resources to match the Amazon and Walmarts of the world

But people love their ability to make lists, go to the store, and have things ready and waiting for them while also having the ability to ring a beep and grab a few extra unscheduled items. Big grocery chains are spending the money to add connected shopping and self-checkouts through an app, while Amazon’s cashierless technology is becoming more available – all of this is something small grocers don’t. don’t have the resources to match.

That’s what Instacart is working on: creating a smart white-label shopping ecosystem that it says can give any store a digital storefront or affix an existing one to work with the Instacart app. “Today they have traditional curbside and same-day delivery services,” e-commerce expert Kassi Socha begins to tell us, which is what drives Instacart. “When I’m at the grocery store and see the Instacart logo that helps me checkout seamlessly, similar to the Amazon Go experience, I might try it out and adopt this new behavior because I know from one some way, form or Instacart form is going to save me time.

It’s a sentiment that aligns with US consumers’ shopping plans for this holiday: 38% plan to use a combination of online ordering for in-store pickup, using mobile payments, using online listings and doing curbside pickup, all alongside a lighter but strong demand for same-day deliveries, according to Gartner Consumer Insights.

Socha tells The edge that retailers large and small are looking for an out-of-the-box software suite that Instacart needs to get their services up and running quickly to “compete with Amazon and the Walmarts of the world at the same speed”. Instacart currently works with more than 900 retailers in 75,000 stores across North America, according to Socha.

You scan the Caper Cart's QR code in the Instacart app and it syncs your shopping lists.  You can then pay directly in the shopping cart.

You scan the Caper Cart’s QR code in the Instacart app and it syncs your shopping lists. You can then pay directly in the shopping cart.
Image: Instagram

Instacart’s software suite is the core component of its connected stores, leveraging what it has learned from partnering with grocery stores like Publix and Wegmans and expanding to smartify any grocery store. It takes all the company’s satisfaction, ideas and even publicity tools to create a vertical solution that integrates the stores’ digital storefront with Instacart – which she says will save the store money compared to to a complete overhaul. Store operations will also get better inventory information and save time ordering items that should be out of stock.

For shoppers, the system isn’t as quick as picking something up and taking it out like the systems working at some Whole Foods and Amazon Go stores. You will, however, be able to do things like order deli meats, baked goods, and fresh food within the same interface. And on the grocery side, an updated Instacart FoodStorm ordering system combines kiosk/ticket and online orders in one place.

Press a button in the app, and it can light up a beacon on the special price tags to guide you there.

Press a button in the app, and it can light up a beacon on the special price tags to guide you there.
GIF by Instacart

And if you’re having trouble finding something, the company offers special e-ink price tags that can flash a light, drawing your eye to the right spot in an aisle. They’re called carrot tags and often display a QR code, so you can scan it and see even more product information. The label can also display other useful information on the fly, such as whether the product is gluten-free, kosher, organic, etc. It can even tell you if an item is eligible for EBT or SNAP.

Bristol Farms in Irvine, CA will be the first of the “connected stores” to be fully equipped with all of Instacart’s new technologies. You can also visit a Wakefern Food Corp store. to also try the Caper carts. Everything will be put online “in the coming months”. Instacart’s partnership with Walmart for same-day grocery delivery was an attempt to challenge Amazon, but that partnership has come to an end, and now it looks ready to try again. But Amazon can retaliate by creating tools like palm-reading biometric payment systems that will be available to non-Amazon businesses.

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