New additions for the web-only merchant of groceries and household products include augmented reality and group ordering.

Boxed Wholesale last week unveiled three new features designed to make online shopping easier for its customers: an augmented reality tool, a Facebook chatbot appropriately named Bulky and a group ordering feature.

The web-only merchant of bulk groceries and household products says its augmented reality feature aims to reassure shoppers wary of buying wholesale products that won’t fit in their pantries. Using the Apple ARKit, the AR View lets shoppers compare sizes against other retail products and the dimensions of their pantry. In June, Apple announced its augmented reality software for app developers, ARKit. That meant, as of November 2017, augmented reality was available to any consumer with an iPhone 6s or later running the iOS11 operating system. As of December, 59% of Apple devices were running iOS 11, according to Apple. Plus, 44.9% of U.S. smartphone-owning adults own an iPhone as of June, according to digital measurement firm comScore Inc.

Boxed launched Bulky, its Facebook Messenger chatbot, to allow shoppers to track orders, build carts and search for products. It also is integrated with Boxed’s Smart StockUp, a feature that predicts when shoppers will most likely run low on particular household products and makes it simple for them to reorder by sending them a reminder about the items they are likely running low on.

Boxed’s in-house team of data scientists created an algorithm over three months that scans customer data to predict what shoppers are going to run out of.

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Boxed also launched a new group ordering feature that allows consumers to use a shareable link to build their cart with others, even if they’re not Boxed customers. The feature is designed for roommates, colleagues, families, or  anyone organizing a group trip, Boxed says. Shoppers can see who’s buying what items and split the bill via the Venmo payment service.

Boxed, No. 326 in the Internet Retailer 2017 Top 1000, has been investing heavily in technology to make its business more efficient and boost sales. In October, it unveiled self-driving vehicles that navigate through its New Jersey warehouse. For now, the self-driving vehicles will travel the picking route. Human warehouse workers pick the items and punch into a computer screen that the item has been selected and then the cart delivers the finished cart to a packer. This will increase picks per hour by an estimated 80%, Boxed says. Boxed also plans to use the vehicles for replenishment and transportation of supplies.

Boxed plans to eventually expand the vehicles’ functionality to complete other warehouse tasks that can be made more efficient. For example, rather than sending a human to restock a picking zone with paper towels, the vehicle could soon be able to recognize the need to replenish the product and complete the task, all without humans needing to get involved. The retailer is testing the technology with plans to roll out as many as 120 of the vehicles across several other warehouses next year.

Other recent technology-focused initiatives include investing tens of millions of dollars on a new warehouse automation system. Four miles of automated conveyor belts, which were integrated in April at its New Jersey facility, deliver goods to warehouse workers for packing. Automation has led to a 600% fulfillment productivity gain and a 350% total productivity gain, which measures labor cost per shipment.

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Boxed this summer also launched Concierge, which not only predicts when a shopper is running low on goods, but preemptively fulfills the order and sends a customer products without them needing to engage at all. Concierge is geared toward businesses. For example, a company might use Concierge to reorder office supplies or snacks, Boxed says. B2B orders make up 20% of Boxed revenue or about $20 million, Boxed says.

Boxed also recently announced it is rolling out a real-time auction platform for search ads. The platform works in much the same way that search-based ad-bidding platforms work on Google, Amazon.com Inc. (No. 1) or other platforms. As an impression loads in a shopper’s browser or app, information about the page and user is passed on to the auction platform, where it is auctioned off to the advertiser that is willing to pay the highest price. That winning bidder’s ad is then loaded almost instantly.

Boxed mainly sells bulk products. The retailer says it generated more than $100 million in online sales last year. There is no membership fee required for consumers to buy from Boxed, delivery is free for purchases of $49 or more, and packages usually arrive within two days. Boxed also sells its own brand of affordably-priced goods. The retailer sells about 1,600 SKUs.

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