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Albertsons launches AI-powered grocery cart in local store, aims to merge ‘online and offline’ shopping

At the Albertsons store in Eagle, shoppers are trying out a new technology that could mark a significant change to the in-store shopping experience: a high-tech cart.

The shopping cart is a fundamental part of the experience of going to the grocery store and has been for decades. But other than a place for little ones to sit, the invention hasn’t changed much over the decades.

Seattle-based startup Veeve and Boise-based Albertsons Companies hope to change that. Albertsons is trialing Veeve’s AI-powered shopping cart, complete with a large iPad-style screen, scale, cameras, and other gadgets designed to transform the shopping experience.

Evolving in-store experience

Veeve CEO Shariq Siddiqui said the carts bring benefits both to customers – and retailers like Albertsons.

“It’s all about how you enhance the in-store experiences and merge online and offline experiences,” Siddiqui said. “That’s where Amazon is spending most of its capital dollars.”

Large traditional grocery retailers like Albertsons have been working to adapt and transform how consumers buy groceries rapidly. As BoiseDev has reported, Albertsons has launched a flurry of tech-based initiatives, from delivery robots to automated grocery kiosks to a partnership with Google.

[Albertsons tests app that lets customers check out without checking out]

His product brings a bit of the Amazon Go no-checkout store model to traditional retailers.

The Veeve cart, which is being trialed by Albertsons in Pleasonton, California, as well as Eagle, allows customers to scan groceries as they go and check out without even visiting a kiosk. But Siddiqui says it’s more than a self-checkout on wheels.

“The idea for the cart is not just about checkout,” he said. “If you could ask a customer to… punch in their number and create a more immersive experience than doing it at the end when you checkout.”

He said the cart could pull up product recommendations, show coupons, display a shopping list, and more.

“When you are buying tortilla chips, you can be offered to buy salsa with it.”

It also adds possibilities that are common in online shopping but less so in the store. Siddiqui said the Veeve platform could allow shoppers to buy something for delivery that might not be on the shelf. He noted that Campbell’s makes more varieties of soup than most stores could carry.

“What if that cream of mushroom you really wanted isn’t on the shelf. How do you buy it if it’s not in the store? You could add it to your virtual cart and have it delivered, bringing that endless aisle experience.”

At first, customers will have to scan the barcodes of their products, much like self-checkout. But over time, that will change.

“The cart has multiple cameras and sensors,” Siddiqui said. “They are recording every time you put an item in – takes video from four diff cameras and building a 3D model of every product in the store. Then, in six months, you don’t have to barcode scan.”

A shopper tries out the cart in the Eagle Albertsons store. Courtesy Veeve.

He said the average store trip with the Veeve cart takes about 27 minutes – versus 45 minutes for a typical cart. He bills the technology as not only a way to save money through coupons but time as well.

Adapting in an Amazon landscape

Siddiqui spent more than eight years at Amazon, where he rose to head of product, working on a variety of products at the world’s largest retailer. Now, he’s working to help traditional retailers compete with the tech giant.

“Amazon is spending billions on front-end in-store technologies. While the world might think online is where it’s at, and in-store is dead, stores will be here for a long time. It’s all about how you enhance the in-store experiences and merge online and offline experiences. That’s where Amazon was spending most of its capital dollars.”

But for big chains like Albertsons, which aren’t tech companies and operate one low-single-digit margins, he thinks his company can help them compete.

[You Asked: Will new Albertsons stores in Meridian, Star be like the Market Street flagship?]

“There are fundamental differences between big retailers — Amazon is a technology company that happens to be doing business in (grocery),” he said. “Albertsons is really really good at buying and selling and inventory management but they are not technology companies. Retailers know to survive this onslaught, they need to become a tech player. It’s hard for a 100-year-old company to transform itself into an AI company. We’re not a retailer. We’re a pure technology platform.”

He said the Veeve cart could help ease labor challenges and “upskill” employees from the checkout stand to assist in the store.

“Think Apple. They’re helping you wherever you are instead of in a checkout line. At the wine aisle, you could ask for a recommendation from an employee who pulls up the tablet and punches in your request. Upskilling the job of the cashier as a sales rep.”

Siddiqui said while the carts are in trial mode in the local Albertsons store and California Safeway, they are in discussions to scale up quickly across the company – which has more than 2,200 stores nationwide.

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Don Day - BoiseDev Editor & Founder
Don is the founder and publisher of BoiseDev. He is a National Edward R. Murrow Award winner and a Stanford University John S. Knight Fellow. Contact him at don@boisedev.com.

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