New mobile “smart stores” can meet customers in a variety of places

Diving Brief:

  • Retail automation start-up Tortoise has unveiled mobile “smart stores” based on remotely controlled containers that allow people to buy food and other goods without interacting with a human worker, announced the company.
  • Tortoise works with more than ten partners including Choice Market in Colorado and Chicago-area chain Go Grocer, to launch unattended self-service units, which each stock a single SKU and allow people to use a phone or credit card to pay for items.
  • The company says its new concept can help retailers generate significantly more revenue than they could generate with traditional vending machines.

Overview of the dive:

Tortoise is positioning its mobile smart stores as a way for retailers to drive sales by making select items available in situations where they might otherwise not be accessible to customers, Dmitri Shevelenkopresident and co-founder of Tortoise, said in an interview.

Tortoise said early results showed their mobile smart stores can generate sales of $80 to $100 per hour.

Along with the upsell, Tortoise sees units as a flexible way to meet customers where they already are. Units can move from location to location during the day and be used to sell items in front of an after-hours outlet, inside a store, or in stadiums and other locations , he noted. Customers do not need an account or an app to purchase an item.

The concept is a game changer for Tortoise, which had focused on using its robotic carts to deliver groceries to consumers and transport them between outlets, but then concluded that a store’s offering on wheels is a better use of its technology. , said Shevelenko. The company, which previously partnered with retailers including Safeway and Market of choice to test his electric delivery vehicle, found that people often approached containers hoping they could buy something – a pattern that convinced him to turn to the idea of ​​the store on wheels.

“We saw the same thing happen in all of our deployments, which was that whenever the robot was parked in a store or around a corner, people would come up to it, start talking to it, and talk to it. were expecting to be able to interact with him. . So we took that idea to heart,” Shevelenko said.

Tortoise is working with a variety of retailers to launch the mobile smart store concept. Besides Choice Market and Go Grocer, initial users also include Edith’s, a New York retailer specializing in Jewish comfort food; London-based digital grocer Jiffy; and Opie Stores, which opened a drive-through grocery store in South Carolina last fall.

To provide unattended vending capabilities, Tortoise uses the same propulsion system and secure storage units it has previously developed for its delivery robots. To interact with shoppers, the company added touch readers to boxes to simultaneously unlock the lid and pay for items.

Each cart can accommodate two storage units, each intended to carry multiple individual packages containing the same product, Shevelenko said. The units feature industrial-grade insulation and can contain hot plates and dry ice, and Tortoise plans to upgrade them with electric air conditioning systems later in 2022, Shevelenko said.

The carts are controlled by remote operators based in Mexico City, who guide them to where they will be parked, monitor transactions and play audio messages for shoppers.

Tortoise provides the equipment to retailers at no upfront cost and charges a fee of 10% of gross sales.

Catherine Douglas Moran contributed reporting.

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