Caper's AI shopping cart goes national to counter Amazon Go
Caper is expanding its AI-powered shopping cart nationally as Amazon looks to build a network of up to 3,000 cashierless Amazon Go stores.
Caper's cart has two announced clients, and is a different take on the technology that usually supports cashierless stores. Unlike Amazon Go, Standard Cognition, Zippin, and other tech firms that track an individual in a store, Caper places it’s technology in the cart to facilitate the autonomous checkout experience.
That design should minimize the disruption for stores to add the new technology, according to Lindon Gao, co-founder and CEO of Caper.
Caper’s intelligent shopping carts are currently in use at Food Cellar in Long Island City in Queens and Gala Fresh in the Park Slope neighborhood of Brooklyn. The company plans to roll out its AI-powered carts to more than 150 clients in 2019.
While autonomous checkout requires significant IT infrastructure and a consumer mobile app to check-in, there are CRM benefits. Since Caper carts don’t require a user to download an app or require a deep integration, some CRM benefits are lost but the implementation requires less work.
As consumers load items into their Caper cart, a combination of computer-controlled cameras and built-in sensors will recognize the items, weigh produce and use machine learning to enhance the shopping experience. Caper’s cart requires barcode scanning of each item as it is placed in the cart. By leveraging the captured item image along with the associated barcode to train its machine learning algorithm, it will enable a scanless, drop-and-go experience. The shopper remains largely anonymous to the store until checkout or if a loyalty card is swiped before the shopping begins.
Caper has been able to increase the average basket size by 18 percent at the existing grocers using its carts by exposing customers to products that they may overlook or are unable to find, Gao contends.
But AI-powered shopping carts and store-based autonomous checkout may miss some prepared foods, which don't always have barcodes, according to Richard Crone, a payments consultant. Grocers use prepared foods and fresh produce to continue to draw-in shoppers, since these items are typically unique and are not bulk ordered from a delivery service. However, since these vary every week they are known as “exception items” since their barcodes are not always loaded into the system and may need human intervention.
“The ‘exceptions’ are what kills autonomous checkout and the top exception is produce and fresh bulk customer selected items such as meats, deli and made to order foods like pizza, sandwiches, etc. “Yet exceptions are used to draw customers into the grocery store. The exceptions are the grocery store’s competitive advantage,” noted Crone.
Casper is part of fierce race to beat Amazon be the first mass-adopted solution for autonomous checkout as a means of speeding consumer through a store more quickly and efficiently. Walmart recently launched a Scan-and-Go technology at a Sam’s Club warehouse in Dallas as a "lab" to incubate, test and refine technology in order to stay with or even move ahead of Amazon Go’s high-tech spin on grocery store retailing.
According to Crunchbase, a website that tracks investments in private fintech companies, Caper's seed investors include Y Combinator, a Menlo Park, Calif. startup accelerator that is best known for its ability to mix capital investments and coaching to young startups. Its list of successful investments include Stripe, Airbnb, LendUp, Instacart and WePay (acquired in 2017 by JPMorgan Chase).
Caper has raised about $3.5 million to-date from Y Combinator, First Round Capital, and a number of grocery industry angel investors such as Nick Taranto (co-founder of Plated) and Max Mullen (co-founder of Instacart).
Y Combinator was also part of a $40 million Series A investment into Standard Cognition, a store-based autonomous checkout tech vendor and rival to Caper. Standard Cognition recently acquired the robotic mapping startup, Explorer.ai, to accelerate the rollout of its autonomous checkout solutions to retailers.