Today, traditional retailers are competing not only against each other but also against e-commerce — as well as online companies that are opening brick and mortar outposts.
Compounding the pressure is the breakneck pace of technological change.
Customers have experienced self-checkout and the cashless store concept of Amazon Go, and now artificial intelligence attached to the old, familiar shopping cart could reshape the shopping experience.
Are smart carts worth it?
AI designed into the cart may be the next trend that will help customers be more efficient by scanning and identifying goods, suggesting products, storing shopping or "punch" lists and directing customers to items.
Stores profit from the AI-driven carts, because more efficient shoppers take less time in the store, so the more customers can be served in a given time period.
Smart carts from Caper tackle the job with barcode scanners and card swipers, mounted cameras that use image recognition and weight sensors.
The company additionally claims the tech has raised consumers' average basket size by 18 percent.
And that's not to mention the positive word-of-mouth marketing about "the store that has no register lines," because payment is completed cart-side by the customer.
Although currently customers must scan products before placing them in the cart, the company's goal is to depend solely on cameras and weight sensors in the carts to automatically recognize products when they're added.
So far, the technology is at two NYC chain stores, but its potential is far reaching.
Built in cross-selling
AI is particularly helpful for cross-selling: For example, at a home improvement retail specialty store, sheetrock is placed in the cart, and the screen asks if the shopper would like to add paint.
If so, it provides direction to the correct aisle — as well as displays on-screen any related products that are on sale in the store.
The ease of obtaining additional related products enhances the shopper's experience, and strengthens the retailer's bottom line.
While cross-selling is not always viewed favorably by shoppers who sometimes perceive associates as "pushy," incorporating this type of "gentle reminder" feature at a specialty retailer, such as a drug store, may be viewed as helpful — a purchase of cough syrup may lead to a reminder to buy cough drops and menthol rub.
According to Caper, the carts aren't much more expensive than new, traditional models.
And they are less costly than retrofitting a retailer with Amazon Go-type technology.
They are also an excellent means of gathering shopper data, analyzing information such as product popularity and floor plans.
Just as a chatbot can be programmed to help an ecommerce retailer increase the size of a shoppers "basket," smart carts are another method of integrating AI into the customer experience.