Smart shopping carts is the phrase of the week, evidently. Indeed, news stories of such carts that power cashierless checkout at grocery are popping up all over The Spoon recently. In just the past week we’ve covered Veeve and Amazon’s brand new Dash Cart, and today we add London-based Storewide Active Intelligence (SAI) to that list.
Like others in the space, SAI’s solution uses an on-board touchscreen as well as camera with computer vision software and artificial intelligence to identify products that shoppers place inside their cart, so the system can automatically charge the shopper when they exit the store. That’s nothing new; the aforementioned Veeve and Amazon do that as well as Caper.
But there are a few ways that SAI is different from the smart cart competition. First, SAI’s system fits on existing shopping carts, so stores don’t need purchase new ones. Som Sinha, Founder and CEO of SAI, told me by phone this week that stores can just swap out existing cart handles with an SAI one.
Additionally, SAI carts are outfitted with patented photovoltaics that continuously charge the cart using either sunlight or indoor lighting. This means that carts can be used round the clock and don’t need to be taken off the floor to charge.
In other ways, however, SAI carts seem to be behind the competition. SAI’s carts don’t include weight sensors, so if you want to add produce, you have to weigh it separately and print out a special sticker for the cart to recognize.
Additionally, the SAI system has only one camera with a fisheye lens, so it is possible that you could trick the system by tucking a pack of gum behind a big cereal box as you placed it in the cart. Sinha said the second-gen version of the cart will feature a second camera.
SAI, which has raised £100,000 (~$125,000 USD) and is mostly bootstrapped, won’t divulge pricing specifics for its cart, but Sinha said that the company has 450 backorders from two retailers in the UK and India. Those backorders, however are moving anytime soon as the pandemic has retailers holding off on completing those orders for the time being.
While SAI carts may not be rolling around store aisles, retailers have found another use for the technology: checking out the checkout aisles to help prevent theft. Sinha said that because the camera’s computer vision is so accurate, retailers have installed them in checkout aisles in multiple stores to ensure that everything going into a shopper’s bag is accounted for.
That seems a little Big Brother-y, but Sinha said that these catching these small infractions can translate into big dollars across all of the transactions a grocery chain does in a day.
SAI and Veeve are similar in that both are looking at employee use cases for their technology. SAI monitors checkout aisles, while Veeve plans on being used by grocery employees to fulfill online customer orders.
While the pandemic may have slowed the implementation of SAI’s carts in-stores, there is long-term opportunity for smart carts and cashierless checkout tech. Going forward, customers and retailers will be hyper aware of all the touch points inside a store, and giving customers a contactless payment option will become table stakes.
There is some debate as to which approach to cashierless checkout is better. There is the smart cart approach, or the one taken by the likes of Trigo, Grabango and Zippin, which outfits the stores themselves with cameras and AI to monitor purchases.
Sinha says that the smart cart approach is better because instead of wasting resources watching over an entire store, retailers can focus on where the actual purchasing decisions are taking place.
It’s still very early in the cashierless space and honestly, there are enough grocery stores globally that the phrase of the future will be opportunity knocking.