Instacart grocery has ‘Smart Cart’ for deliveries

Instacart gig workers have a smartphone app with scanning tools at their disposal to fulfill delivery orders — but what if regular shoppers could also use them?

There’s a beige and thick-bodied plastic shopping cart in the middle of a modern grocery store with smooth concrete flooring, white oak shelving, and white tiled walls.

The cart has a big orange and green carrot logo printed on the side, a tablet computer affixed to the top where a child would typically sit, and a digital payment terminal.

The grocery delivery service plans to get frequent everyday shoppers into “Connected Stores,” where they’d use an intelligent rolling cart with built-in support for lists, order deli meats or baked goods, finding items, and self-checkout.

The show star is Instacart’s upgraded “Caper Cart,” a smart cart that can detect what items in your list are placed based on computer vision and weight and check them off in your app. It’s got a giant touchscreen that syncs your grocery list from your app and an attached payment terminal so you can self-checkout without waiting to use a terminal. The previous versions are in operation at select Kroger stores, but those were made before Instacart acquired Caper AI a year ago.

The new cart is slimmer, lighter, and can hold 65 percent more products in them, according to Instacart. In addition, the company claims it’s the only smart cart that can recharge its batteries by stacking carts instead of needing to swap out 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 check yourself out.

On the surface, this sort of goes against Instacart’s delivery service goal: to remove the inconvenience of needing to go to the grocery store yourself. But as the pandemic wanes, demand for online delivery services is dropping and hurting the bottom lines of companies like Instacart, Uber, and DoorDash.

But people like their ability to make lists, go to the store, and have stuff ready and waiting for them while also having the flexibility to call an audible and grab a few extra, unplanned items.

As a result, large grocery store chains are spending the money to add connected shopping and self-checkout via an app. In addition, Amazon’s cashier-less tech is becoming more available — all of which is something smaller grocers don’t have the resources to match.

Instacart has been working on: building a white label intelligent shopping ecosystem that it claims 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 what’s motivating Instacart. “When I’m at the grocery store, and I see the Instacart logo that helps me do a seamless checkout, similar to the Amazon Go experience, I might try it and adopt that new behavior because I know in some way, shape, or form Instacart is gonna save me time.”

It’s an emotion that falls in line with US consumer shopping plans for this holiday: 38 percent of them plan to use a combination of online orders for in-store pick-up, use mobile payments, use online lists, and do curbside pickup, all alongside a lighter but strong demand for same-day deliveries, according to Gartner Consumer Insights.