Kroger Uses Smart Cart to Speed Order Fulfillment and Pickup

The temperature-controlled eCart allows customers to pick up their order curbside without employee help.

September 26, 2022

PALO ALTO, Calif.—Kroger is partnering with BrightDrop, a subsidiary of General Motors, to launch a new temperature-controlled eCart that helps streamline order fulfillment and pickup for online grocery purchases. The grocer is the first supermarket to partner with BrightDrop on this technology.

The eCart, called Trace Grocery, is focused on speeding up online grocery order fulfillment and pickup by allowing employees to put orders directly into the unit before stationing it curbside for customers to retrieve their orders. The unit can easily move inside and outside of a store, and customers can access their orders inside the eCart without an employee present.

According to BrightDrop, “Trace Grocery is designed to provide retailers the efficiency and cost savings benefits their businesses need, and the shopper the convenience and flexibility they expect from online grocery services.”

Technical features of Trace Grocery include temperature management that allows items to be stored at food-safe temperatures for up to four hours; propulsion assistance to move up to 350 pounds of groceries; nine compartments to segment items by order, temperature and product type; autobraking; and weather proofing.

“COVID has driven a dramatic increase in online grocery shopping, and fulfilling these orders profitably has become a major challenge for retailers of all sizes. With the Trace Grocery, we saw an opportunity to help companies like Kroger tackle these challenges head on,” said BrightDrop President and CEO Travis Katz. “As online shopping continues to grow, BrightDrop is committed to developing innovative solutions to help our customers keep pace. The Trace Grocery is a perfect example of this.”

BrightDrop and Kroger completed an initial pilot program with Trace Grocery in Lexington and Versailles, Kentucky. During this pilot, Kroger said it experienced a noticeable improvement in the customer and associate experience.

Last month, Kroger announced its belted self-scan checkout lanes were expanding to 20 Cincinnati-area stores after a successful pilot, reports WCPO. These new checkout lanes are larger and use a belt like a traditional cashier-assisted lane uses to speed up the self-checkout process.

Kroger recently announced it has opened two new spoke facilities in Greater Nashville and the Chicago Metro Area. These two facilities serve as “last-mile cross-dock” locations and will operate as an extension of regional fulfillment centers, making Kroger Delivery available to more customers in Tennessee and Illinois.

Kroger’s delivery network relies on highly automated fulfillment centers. At the hub sites, more than 1,000 bots move around giant 3D grids, orchestrated by proprietary control systems. The grid, known as The Hive, contains totes with products and ready-to-deliver customer orders.

As customers' orders approach delivery times, bots retrieve products from The Hive and present them at pick stations for items to be sorted for delivery, a process governed by algorithms that ensure items are intelligently packed.

At the 2022 NACS Show, don’t miss the education session “Self-Checkout Strategies” October 1 at noon PDT in Pavilion 4. There’s still time to register for the Show, which kicks off this Saturday in Las Vegas and runs through next Tuesday.