The future of retail is behind smart carts, or How I Invented the Wheel

    Once I read in a smart book that any invention, in fact, is a consequence of negative experience. Like, a man is so arranged that once he has filled himself with a painful lump, the next time he will surely build something like a helmet on his head. The statement is controversial, not applicable to everything, but in most cases it is true.

    Tired of people pushing loads on the ground - a wheel appeared, the Neolithic farmer got stuck picking the soil with a digging stick, found a wide and flat bison bone in the remains of a family dinner (which, by the way, was called a shovel later), he wound it to a digger - he invented a shovel. And the lightning rod must have been invented by the one who once had a good flash of lightning flashed, otherwise how could you think of such a thing.



    There were, of course, those who, in life, most neededwho, by virtue of genius, is used to thinking for everyone without reference to personal experience (da Vinci and Tesla, for example), but this is a separate song. Basically, inventions are the logical result of their own empirical path. That's about the time I recently "invented" a smart cart for a supermarket.

    The atmosphere for creativity that day was favorable - it was traditional for shopping on Saturday, and the cash desk in the super was opened for some reason only three out of ten. In the trolley I had everything that a family of five with two young children might need for a week, and they themselves. A rather large queue was making noise behind me, and right in front of me in a trolley on a folding "children's" shelf was the youngest child, pulling hair from my beard and laughing infectiously at the same time (apparently, he was making fun of something). The elder at that time was sitting in the trolley itself and nimbly folding back into it everything that I had just laid out on a tape in front of the cash register. In general, the box office was approaching, but the deal was not moving off the ground. A compassionate aunt, standing in front, tried to help, but was immediately doused with juice. Eventually,



    The queues seemed to tell us

    Hell backed off, went home. The recent experience was so vivid that the nervous system began to send impulses to the brain immediately after the shock from the past had passed a little. But what if, the trolley itself will act as a POS terminal? Yes, and additional features such functionality provides a lot. And along the way, I already had an idea of ​​how to avoid shifting from empty to empty by optimizing the shopping process. To the delight of buyers and sellers.

    Proud of the benefits that I bring to humanity, I decided to google on a topic at home, in order to make sure that the idea was original. The disappointment was cruel. It turns out that on the Internet, smart cart models have long existed in ideas, projects, and prototypes. And in the Shanghai hypermarket chain Lotus even successfully tested. Moreover, the understanding of the "mind of the cart" from their creators is very different.



    Designers Kitai Pak and Inyong Jang, for example, in their concept proposed a model that would generate electricity during movement, and the store would then use it in its power grid. And the developers of the Smart Shopping Cart of the Korean company SK Telecom equipped their shopping bag on wheels with an integrated tablet computer that helps the customer navigate the store and choose products.



    But here is the most desirable opportunity - to pay for purchases with the help of a cart - offers only one model, the most intelligible and most relevant to my ideas about the "smart cart", by the way, developed by a Russian startup. And most importantly, it is presented for the search for co-financing on the VCStart collective investment platform (oh shame on me), the blog of which I actually conduct here on Habré. Although, it is rather not my file, but an indicator of the interest of startups in attracting investments on our platform. We start only after a week, and there are already 332 of them registered. I regularly look at new ones, but it has somehow become a lot (which, of course, is good), but you can’t keep track of everyone.

    In general, the project seemed very interesting, and I decided to write about it. Yes, and he interested me more than one - it’s still far from financing, he is preceded by the stage of collecting the community, and CartPay (as this St. Petersburg startup is called) has already managed to collect 2% of the target amount, which amounts to more than $ 3 thousand.

    What CartPay offers:

    Buyers: Save time by eliminating queues at cash desks or self-service terminals;

    To shops: Increasing the throughput of cash desks and self-service terminals (and as a result, increasing customer loyalty, and in the long term, increasing the average check amount) and reducing operating costs.

    How does it look from the side:

    The buyer walks around the store and puts everything in his miracle cart that his eyes fall on and enough money, previously bringing the goods to the built-in scanner that reads the barcode. Then he goes to the cashier and pays for a check waiting for him. Actually, that's all.

    I recall that something similar in Russia was tested in its “Shop of the Future” by X5 Retail Group, introducing RFID (Radio-frequency identification) technology. However, the overhead of introducing the RFID tags on which it is built is high, and the X5 Retail Group test lab is currently investigating RFID capabilities and is trying to reduce them. There are results - for six years the cost of one tag has dropped from 16 to 4 rubles, which is still quite a lot for its widespread implementation. In addition, reading equipment for using RFID tags is expensive. X5 Retail Group is not a poor company, but it will not trade at a loss.

    In contrast to the RFID system, CartPay has a number of obvious advantages:
    • The use of smart carts does not require additional product labeling;
    • Carts work with ordinary cash desks and self-service terminals already installed;
    • The solution is easy and cheap to scale within a single store.



    In addition, a mobile application will be optionally offered to shoppers with an implemented system, which will provide quick navigation around the store and help maintain shopping lists. Also, the application will check the expiration date of the product and the number of calories in it - in my opinion, the function is just mega-useful, especially for people with low vision, given the small print on the packaging of most products.

    Ensuring the safety of the most trolleys (item unique, valuable, and even scale it built, abut) and the goods in it are as follows: a smart cart itself controls the actions of the buyer and the weight of the goods.

    As stated on the project’s website, “if the buyer deviates from the standard behavior scenario, then the store employees are informed about this and the buyer can be checked at the cash desk or self-service terminal”. Here, I needed some clarification that I received when contacting the CEO of the project Evgeny Yevnukov :

    Eugene, for example, a person who is not very, to put it mildly, honest, put something with an unscanned code on the bottom of the cart with the intention to erase this product. Is it possible to detect the intention of theft and prevent it only by weight?

    If something is put into the trolley without scanning the bar code, both the buyer and the store employees are informed about this when calculating. And, if the latter has a signal about the suspicious actions of the buyer, on their basis they will be able to check it. In the future, we plan to integrate with video surveillance systems and pattern recognition.


    And if the error in the scales, or the goods that the dishonest person hid in the trolley, is very light?

    The current prototype determines the change in weight if you put one cigarette on the scales. I can’t give a more accurate answer yet, I need to wait for the cart to be tested according to usage scenarios. Of course, there is a very light product and it will not be possible to fix it, but for this there are special signal frames at the checkout and other anti-theft tools.


    How do you rate the potential of CartPay?

    Out of 200K large retail stores worldwide, 35K has self-service systems at $ 800M (VDC Research). The entire potential market for self-service systems is valued at $ 4.3B. Our solution combines several areas of self-service systems. This moment fits in the infographic, which is given below.




    Even at the current moment we can say that our solution is no worse than the widespread today with simple cashier service. But, at the same time, the potential for improving service by the cashier has been exhausted, but with us it is only opening up.


    Is someone already interested in introducing the product?

    There is interest among retail. But everyone wants to see a ready-made solution for testing. They do not want to invest in development. Of course, there are skeptical reviews, but all of them are not backed up by anything, they simply do not believe, as is often the case with something new. But Jobs or Gates, too, because at one time not everyone believed)))

    Well, optimistic. True, due to the design features of the trolley, you won’t ride children in such a cart, but it does have a bunch of other advantages. It remains a small matter - seed investments that a startup needs to send out prototypes of its brainchild to many who want to test it.
    By the way, you can buy a stake in this project on our collective investment platform VCStart.com (from $ 30). "
    And on the site of the startup Сartpay.co you can leave a request for testing the prototype.

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