Users can transfer their shopping list and dietary restrictions and preferences from a smartphone to the cart. When a user places an item into the SmarterCart that conflicts with his or her diet — say, a box of pasta that isn't gluten-free — the self-propelled cart sends an alert and can lead the shopper to alternative products.
Chaotic Moon has also integrated real-time food safety information into the carts so that as soon as a recall is published, SmarterCarts can notify shoppers if they have recalled items in their cart.
Wal-Mart, the nation's largest grocery retailer, recently expanded its Scan & Go payment system to more than 200 stores. Customers use Wal-Mart's mobile app on their iPhones or Android devices to scan bar codes on products they plan to buy; to pay, they wirelessly transfer the contents of their mobile basket to an in-store self-checkout machine.
Other chains are introducing their own checkout timesavers.
Fingertip scanners were gaining traction in the U.S. before the company behind the technology pulled the plug on the Pay by Touch system and filed for bankruptcy during the financial crisis. Shoppers paid for goods using fingertip scanners linked to their payment information.
"We had numerous customers signed up for it," West Seattle Thriftway owner Paul Kapioski said. "Several hundreds used it and liked it and it was a very convenient system."
Now tech firms are bringing fingerprint technology back. PayTango, a Silicon Valley start-up, has developed finger pads to be installed in grocery stores and other retailers.
A separate fingerprint scanner was a hit during a six-month trial involving France's Auchan and Leroy Merlin stores that ended in March. Nearly 5,000 transactions occurred during the trial, according to Natural Security, the firm that developed the scanners. Afterward, 94% of participants said they were willing to use the payment option for future purchases.
Not too long ago, the idea of payments linked to fingerprints made many people uneasy. But in the age of social media and mobile computing, consumers are getting more comfortable handing over their personal information, said Andrew Wolf, an analyst with BB&T Capital Markets.
"You don't hear people moaning about it," he said. "It's a quid pro quo, a payoff on both sides. People seem comfortable with that."
But in an industry built on human interaction, too much tech too fast could become a death knell for overeager grocers. One early adopter turned fast failure was Fresh & Easy, the 6-year-old U.S. chain that was abandoned this spring by owner Tesco.
Patrons at the chain, which Tesco is now attempting to sell, complained about the dearth of smiling employees in the stores, which feature self-checkout machines only.
Consumers "found it a bit alien and saw it as an example of poor customer service," said Neil Saunders, managing director of retail research firm Conlumino.
So grocers need to incorporate tech in a way that isn't off-putting, he said.
"The bottom line is that to work in a supermarket context, technology can be useful but it is not a replacement for the old-fashioned values of good prices, strong service and quality products."