Instacart gig workers 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 everyday shoppers into “connected stores” where they can use a rolling smart cart with built-in support for lists, ordering deli meats or baked goods, finding items and self-checkout.
The star of the show is Instacart’s upgraded “Caper Cart,” a smart cart that can detect which items are placed on your list — based on computer vision and weight — and check them off in your app. It has a large touchscreen and an attached payment terminal that syncs your grocery list from your app, so you can self-checkout without waiting to use a terminal. Earlier versions were in place at select Kroger stores, but were made before Instacart bought Caper AI a year ago.
According to Instacart, the new cart is thinner, lighter and holds 65 percent more products. The company claims that this is the only smart cart that can recharge batteries by stacking carts instead of swapping batteries. They also accept broadcast software updates. But if you can’t get one of these carts, you can also use in-app Scan & Pay to check yourself out.
On the surface, this kind of Instacart delivery goes against the service’s goal: to eliminate the inconvenience of going to the grocery store yourself. But as the pandemic subsides, demand for online delivery services is falling and hurting the bottom lines of companies like Instacart, Uber and DoorDash.
Small grocers don’t have the resources to match the Amazons and Walmarts of the world
But people love the ability to make lists, go to the store, and have things ready and waiting for them, while still having the flexibility to call someone who will listen and grab a few extra, unplanned items. Big grocers are spending the money needed to add app-connected shopping and self-checkout, while Amazon’s cashier-less tech is becoming more accessible — all of which smaller grocers lack the resources to match.
Instacart is working on: Building a white label smart shopping ecosystem that can provide any store with a digital storefront or patch an existing one to work with the Instacart app. “Today, they have traditional curbside and same-day delivery services,” e-commerce expert Cassie Socha begins by telling us what inspires Instacart. “When I’m at the grocery store and I see the Instacart logo that helps me checkout seamlessly, similar to the Amazon Go experience, I might try that and adopt that new behavior because for me in some way, shape or form Instacart saves me time.
It’s a sentiment that’s consistent with US consumers’ shopping plans for this holiday: 38 percent of them plan to use a combination of online ordering for in-store pickup, using mobile payments, using online catalogs and curbside pickup. According to Gartner Consumer Insights, demand for same-day deliveries is light but strong.
Socha says to the edge Retailers big and small are looking to Instacart for software that’s ready to get their services up and running quickly so they can “compete with the Amazons and Walmarts of the world at the same speed.” Instacart currently works with more than 900 retailers in 75,000 stores in North America, according to Socha.
Instacart’s software suite is a core part of its connected stores, taking what it’s learned from partnerships with grocers like Publix and Wegmans and expanding on it. Wisely Any grocery store. It also takes all of the company’s fulfillment, insights and advertising tools to create a vertical solution that integrates stores’ digital storefront with Instacart — which it says saves the store money compared to a complete overhaul. Store operations also get better stock insights and save time by ordering items that are expected to be out of stock.
For shoppers, the system isn’t as fast as the systems that operate at certain Whole Foods and Amazon Go stores, such as picking something up and checking out. However, you can order deli meat, baked goods and fresh food in the same interface. And on the grocery end, the updated Instacart FoodStorm ordering system combines kiosk / ticket orders and online into one place.
And if you’re having trouble finding something, the company has special e-ink price tags that can flash a light, drawing your attention to the right spot in the aisle. They’re called carrot tags, and often they display a QR code, so you can scan it and see more information on the product. The tag also displays other useful information on the fly, such as if the product is gluten-free, kosher, organic, etc. It also tells you if an item is EBT or SNAP eligible.
Bristol Farms in Irvine, Calif., will be the first of Instacart’s “connected stores” to be fully equipped with all-new technology. You can also go to the Wakefern Food Corporation store to try the caper carts as well. All this will be revealed in the “coming months”. Instacart’s partnership with Walmart for same-day grocery delivery is an attempt to challenge Amazon, and it comes at the e-commerce/retail giant from another angle. But Amazon could fight back as it makes tools like palm-reading biometric payment systems available to non-Amazon companies.
Correction Monday September 19, 2022 10:27AM ET: An earlier version of the article stated that the partnership between Walmart and Instacart had ended. In fact, The partnership is still active. We regret the mistake.