IT’S BEEN YEARS since technology began helping urbanites avoid the teeming aisles and whimsical “organization” of grocery stores. Despite the advent of FreshDirect and Instacart, however, I still make dreaded milk-and-juice runs now and then. The good news: A.I. is turning in-store experiences into equally seamless transactions—no lines or registers, no “chip malfunction,” no wait.
Take AmazonGo, the A.I.-powered convenience mart that opened 10 locations in cities including Seattle and Chicago last year, with plans to evangelize New Yorkers next. Cutting errand time back considerably, the store offers “JustWalkOut” shopping for groceries and meals. How it works: Download the free app, scan a QR code at the entrance, grab items off the shelves and exit through the turnstiles. By the time you receive a receipt in the AmazonGo app, you’re halfway to the car.
At less intelligent stores, you might soon be able to grab a cart that lets you checkout and bag items without a wait. That’s the promise of Caper, a smart shopping cart with a barcode scanner and card swiper built in, as well as mounted cameras that use image recognition and a weight sensor in the basket. The goal: to help Caper’s A.I. learn to be scanner-free.
But Caper—now available in a handful of N.Y. stores and rolling out nationwide in 2019—aims to enhance the entire shopping experience, not just the traffic jam before paying. “The pain point of checkout is universal, but checkout is the tip of the iceberg,” says CEO Lindon Gao,
The cart’s push-handle-mounted touch screen provides real-time recommendations as you stroll, pinging you with sales and ideas for other items based on what you’ve tossed in the basket—as well as helping locate that odd can of diced jalapeños mysteriously missing from Aisle 9.
Some supermarkets have introduced bionic assistants onto their floors. Tally, the Simbe Robotics-powered bot that recently started roving around Schnuck’s stores in St. Louis, uses computer vision to autonomously inventory shelves and keep popular items like my vanilla creamer stocked. Fellow bot Marty, who alerts humans to spills and other hazards, is making its debut at more than 150 U.S. markets this year.
All of this might seem overwhelming to those who haven’t quite mastered self-checkout without spewing vulgarities. For others, these innovations promise far fewer headaches and much less time wandering Aisle 9.