Image credit: Cleveron
The increase in online shopping is driving retailers to look for new ways to fulfill customer orders. This year has marked a growth explosion of deliveries, curbside pick-up, and in-store pick-up as consumers reduce in-person interactions.
Grocery stores face a unique set of challenges because food items must be stored at various temperatures, and the order must be available for timely retrieval without languishing. Add contactless pickup into the mix, and the stakes get even higher.
New technologies are allowing grocery stores to expand pick-up options for customers. Albertsons Companies, one of the largest grocery conglomerates in the US, has installed a standalone automated pick-up kiosk at one of its Jewel-Osco grocery stores in Chicago. The temperature-controlled robotic kiosk, called the Cleveron 510, was created by Estonia-based Cleveron and installed by Telaid, a system integrator based in Niantic, CT.
A New Kind of Corner Store
The Cleveron 510 has two temperature zones to store both fresh and frozen foods. The footprint is about 20 feet by six feet, and one end has the user console flanked by two glass doors, in which storage bins are placed. A future version expected later this year will double the length and include an ambient temperature zone.
Customers place online orders and choose a two-hour pick-up time frame. Store employees fulfill the order, place the bagged items in bins (fresh separate from frozen), and bring the bins to the kiosk. To load the Cleveron 501, the store employee registers at the user console. A robotic conveyor sends empty bins to the front to be swapped for filled bins for new orders. Employees are also notified of orders not retrieved within their timeslot.
The employee scans the barcode located on each bin of groceries. That bin is placed in the user console and robotically transferred to the appropriate temperature capsule. The barcode contains customer, location, and storage zone data. The retailer’s backend system can be integrated with the Cleveron software system, or the data can be entered manually.
Image credit: Cleveron
When scanned at the Cleveron kiosk, the barcode triggers a message to the customer containing a pickup code. The customer can scan the QR code or enter the passcode on the console touch screen. A robotic arm in the unit collects the corresponding bins from the two capsules and delivers them to the doors by the user console for customer retrieval.
Customer Pickup Options
Retailers can restrict items for pickup, such as alcohol products, to ensure federal compliance. Cleveron is developing an artificial intelligence solution that uses cameras and facial recognition technology to flag potential underage buyers.
The Jewel kiosk sits in the store’s parking lot, so employees and customers can access it easily, but it could be placed near a busy intersection, food desert, or other location. One big advantage the robotic kiosk solves is the cost of last mile delivery. The Cleveron 501 can house 120 totes, and the larger iteration will store 330 totes. By comparison, a standard delivery van holds the equivalent of about 70 totes.
The U.S. online grocery market is expected to reach $29.7 billion this year and is projected to climb to $59.5 billion by 2023. When the pandemic hit in March 2020, online grocery sales shot up 233 percent to $4 billion. In August 2020, sales were $5.7 billion, a 375 percent increase from the year prior. With that kind of market growth, it’s no surprise that retailers are racing to expand their automated pickup service.