In the Dutch city of Utrecht, Aldi Nord has opened a test store without a checkout. QR codes, sensors and numerous cameras are intended to make waiting obsolete and thus establish a new way of shopping. However, shopping is no longer anonymous as a result.
Registration in an app required
In order to use the test store, registration in a special Aldi app is necessary. A credit card or other digital payment method must also be stored in the app, which will be used to settle purchases. Upon entering the store, an electronic check-in takes place via a QR code generated in the app. Cameras and sensors then record the movements of all products and people in the store. Product movements are automatically assigned to the respective persons. The products do not have to be scanned: they can be stowed directly in a bag. When leaving the store, a check-out is then necessary, which again takes place via QR code. Afterwards, all products that the sensors have assigned to the respective person are automatically accounted for. A receipt is generated electronically and sent by e-mail.
The biggest advantage of such an approach is that waiting times at the checkout are eliminated. In addition, since no checkout personnel are required, shopping can in principle be made possible around the clock. Ultimately, this results in convenience benefits on the customer side and opportunities for massive savings in personnel costs on Aldi’s side. However, the company assured that it would not use this option: The personnel would be scheduled for other tasks. The idea of digitizing the shopping process is not new, even within Aldi: Aldi Süd was already testing smart shopping carts.
Technology and data protection
The system uses technology from the Israeli company Trigo, whose product is also used in a hybrid Rewe supermarket in Cologne. The system is based on artificial intelligence and is capable of learning. According to Aldi, it underwent intensive training by Aldi employees in the run-up to the opening of the Utrecht supermarket.
However, for all the convenience and economic benefits of a cashierless supermarket, there are numerous data protection drawbacks. For example, the system only works on the basis of seamless monitoring of everyone who moves around the store. Every movement and every reach for a product must be able to be assigned without a doubt to a specific person, who can be identified perfectly via a QR code. Aldi assures that it will delete the codes immediately after the purchase and that all biometric data collected will also be deleted and not analyzed. In principle, however, the supermarket’s design creates the possibility of such an evaluation – including matching with the respective consumer behavior. This in turn not only represents a deep intrusion into privacy, but also opens up the possibility of targeted control of further (consumption) behavior.
The choice of Utrecht as a location is no coincidence. Aldi expects the audience there to be more focused on convenience benefits than privacy concerns. In a statement, Aldi said the Netherlands was optimal as a location because cash is on the decline there and self-service supermarkets are common. In addition, the expected audience in Utrecht is particularly young and tech-savvy, as well as digitization-savvy. Aldi is not yet launching its test run in Germany. Netto, on the other hand, already operates a cashierless store in Munich.