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Grocery tech company Instacart Monday launched their Connected Stores technology features aimed at enhancing the grocery shopping experience by letting consumers use a retailer’s app or website as well as in-store.

“We believe the future of grocery won’t be about choosing between shopping online and in-store — consumers are going to do both,” said Fidji Simo, chief executive officer at San Francisco-based Instacart, in a statement. “Ultimately, we believe that the more customers connect with grocers across both online and in-store experiences, the more retailers’ businesses will grow.”

AI sensors and scan-less technology 

Among the six new platform offerings is the next version of Instacart’s Caper Cart, an AI-powered smart cart that comes with scales, sensors, touchscreens and computer vision technology. The screens are designed to help consumers navigate the store and with the scan-less technology, items do not have to be manually scanned. 

The new Caper Cart is slimmer and lighter than the previous version and has 65% more capacity. It enables stacked charging so that grocers can charge batches of carts at one time and eliminates the need to charge carts individually or swap out batteries. 

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The new Scan & Pay feature lets users scan items as they shop and pay for them from a mobile phone so they don’t have to wait in line to check out. The items that are purchased are also linked to a user’s online account so it’s easier to buy them again, the company said.

Scan & Pay also identifies EBT SNAP-eligible products once they are scanned. 

The Lists feature is designed to let users walk into a store and sync their shopping list from the Instacart App or their grocer’s Instacart-powered app directly to a Caper Cart by scanning a QR code.

With the Carrot Tags feature, retailers can connect electronic shelf labels to the Instacart Platform to add functionality such as pick-to-light capabilities, which allow customers, associates, or Instacart shoppers to select an item on their phone and flash a light on its corresponding shelf tag, making it easier to find the products they’re looking for, Instacart said. 

Carrot Tags is also designed to help retailers display key information, such as whether a specific product is gluten-free, organic, kosher or EBT SNAP eligible.

The new Department Orders feature of Instacart’s FoodStorm order management system lets different prepared food departments inside the store collaborate to better time customers’ orders. For example, customers will be able to order a cake from the bakery and a sandwich from the deli and have them both ready at the same time. 

The Out of Stock Insights API feature aims to help retailers provide automatic, real-time alerts to associates when items are running low or out of stock. 

Omnichannel offerings create new opportunities for grocers

Instacart and Good Food Holdings will jointly open the first Instacart Platform-powered Connected Store at Bristol Farms in Irvine, Calif., “in the coming months,’’ the company said.

“With Connected Stores, retailers can pick and choose the modules that work for them,’’ David McIntosh, Instacart’s vice president of platform growth and technology, told VentureBeat. “They don’t have to wire the whole store, which is expensive. It’s making tech more accessible for retailers,’’ and they can scale their systems. 

“Technology is completely transforming the grocery industry and working with Instacart is helping us unlock and adapt innovative solutions that will shape the in-store experience for our customers,” said Cheryl Williams, CIO at Wakefern Food Corp., in a statement. 

Grocers also need to digitally transform themselves to keep up in today’s competitive environment and create a better experience for shoppers, said Jordan Speer, research director of product sourcing, fulfillment, and sustainability at IDC. “Omnichannel offerings such as Instacart’s modular Connected Stores create opportunities for grocers of all sizes to innovate in stores and offer seamless experiences across online and in-store.”

Smart grocery carts

Others getting into the hybrid grocery tech market include Shopic, a smart grocery shopping cart startup based in Tel Aviv, Israel. In August, Shopic received a $35 million series B investment round led by Qualcomm Ventures for a total of $56 million in funding. 

Shopic’s AI-powered clip-on device is designed to turn shopping carts into smart carts. With computer vision algorithms, Shopic can identify more than 50,000 items once they are placed in a cart in real time while displaying to shoppers product promotions and discounts on related products. The Shopic system acts as a self-service checkout interface as well, saving customers the time and hassle of standing in line to pay.

The system also provides real-time inventory management and customer behavioral insights for grocers through its analytics dashboard, the company said. Grocers can receive reports that include aisle heatmaps, promotion monitoring and new product adoption metrics, Shopic said.

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