retail news in context, analysis with attitude

The Boston Globe reports that Instacart has introduced a new "tabletop checkout system" called Caper Counter to three food venues in Boston's iconic Fenway Park, which "allows customers to purchase items — Coke, peanuts, and candy, for example — that are identified by cameras, rather than cashiers."  

According to the story, "In theory, the system demands only 15 seconds of a customer’s time. In testing, Fenway food service vendor Aramark found that Caper Counter decreased individual checkout times by 70 percent. And in practice, it seems to work. Fans place products on a black surface, with five cameras positioned to identify their purchase — no matter how they’re positioned or how many items there are … The items — and their prices — then load onto a large tablet to the right of the Counter, where fans can pay with a credit card or an eligible Red Sox loyalty program. At least one employee is stationed next to the Counter to troubleshoot, prevent stealing, and guide customers in line."

The Globe reports that "Caper Counter was founded in 2015 and first unveiled its checkout system last fall at the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Heinz Park, where it operates eight machines. The San Francisco startup was acquired by Instacart in October."

KC's View:

This story suggests an unexpected detour by Instacart, though one that probably makes sense if they want to have a broad presence in various forms of payment and e-commerce.  Be interesting to see if they bring this technology to self-checkout lanes in traditional supermarkets.

One thing, though.

The Globe story notes that "the Worcester Red Sox installed similar technology at their Polar Park last year. There, Standard AI created a marketplace that sells snacks and WooSox memorabilia using AI and ceiling cameras. The system tracks customers’ chosen products in a 'digital cart' and completes the transaction in a phone application.

"But Lindon Gao, Instacart’s vice president of engineering, said requiring fans to download an app creates an unnecessary barrier. Plus, he said, cameras scattered around the ceiling at Polar Park require more calibration and maintenance than five stationery cameras on a Caper Counter box."

Two quibbles here.  First the technologies don't strike me as similar at all.  The intentions are the same - reducing friction - but in operation, the Standard AI process actually eliminates the step that is core to the Caper Counter experience.

I'd also be careful, if I were Instacart, about demeaning the checkout-free concept.  After all, it may end up offering its own version of it at some point, or could acquire or be acquired by a company that makes that tech.