Nearly every arena of Western life has been affected by smart technology, with connected devices present everywhere from schools to businesses to homes. Increasingly, retail experiences are changing by way of smart devices and the Internet of Things.
While consumers are turning to new ways of purchasing — from online shopping to using bitcoin as currency — brick-and-mortar grocery stores remain the most popular way for customers to purchase groceries.
Still, new technologies can enhance the shopping experience and streamline in-store processes. Amazon Go provides an example of what smart shopping can be, with a fully automated shopping experience powered by technology, but now that it has shown the way, the pressure is on for more traditional grocery stores to get up to speed. With this in mind, finding connected solutions is a pressing concern for the grocery industry, and there is no better place to start than with the age-old transporter: the shopping cart.
Several companies have been working on their own versions of a connected shopping cart. Most, like the solution offered by Focal Systems, function by way of a tablet added onto an existing cart. Others, like 5 Elements Robotics’ Dash, provide a robotics-propelled cart with smart elements built-in, while companies like Wirecard and T-Systems offer something in-between. Many of these systems use RFID technology to track and scan products.
No one company seems to be the leader yet, partially because these technologies are so new. On top of that, grocery stores are just beginning to scratch the surface of how IoT can positively affect the shopping experience, so it remains unclear which method of connectivity will prevail in the long run. For now, however, there seems to be room in the space for competition, and each solution offers its own unique features to help streamline and enhance grocery shopping.
Benefit to grocery stores
There are many reasons a grocery store would want to implement smart shopping systems. First, it makes it easier to know when items are out-of-stock, shortening the restocking process and decreasing the possibility of lost sales due to lack of items. In addition, this tracking means that stores can easily keep track of most popular items and sales times, so they can repurchase and advertise according to consumer needs.
Some systems also eliminate the need for checkout kiosks by automatically scanning items as soon as they are placed in the cart. This lessens the manpower a store needs, saving money on employee wages.
Smart shopping carts can also allow stores to directly advertise to customers in a targeted way via the screens on the carts themselves, providing a direct-to-consumer communication channel.
Benefit to consumers
Customers can find many benefits with connected shopping carts. First, if the system allows them to create shopping lists (whether in a mobile app or on the cart itself), they can easily keep track of the items they plan to buy. Smart shopping carts can also provide directions to the items on those lists, meaning that customers never have to waste time searching store aisles to find the items they need.
If properly equipped, some connected shopping carts can greatly decrease the time customers spend in-store by eliminating waits at check-out. Carts equipped to scan items, as well as provide a point-of-sale, can help customers avoid having to find check-out kiosks.
A big concern for many customers stems from data collection and use. This fear is compounded if there’s possibility for cyber attack, with hackers gaining access to customer purchasing patterns and store information, as well as account information on both sides.
With systems where customers provide their payment information to the smart cart itself, multiple points of vulnerability to cyber attack present themselves. In particular, automated systems without proper defense systems in place are vulnerable to machine identity threats. If problems arise, stores and customers need to be assured that their information and processes are protected.
One way to do this is to implement a public key infrastructure management system. With a proper system in place, keys and certificates can be quickly replaced if any security compromise ever does take place. In addition, such a system can make sure carts and connected systems only have access to the information they should have access to.
Although customers are constantly on the lookout for new shopping solutions, even frequent online shoppers still prefer brick-and-mortar grocery retail. With that said, consumer patterns continue to change, and connected shopping carts can provide a first step to providing a modern shopping experience to continue ushering in the age of connectivity.