Cashierless stores are the future of retail and there is now one in Utrecht, thanks to AI and computer vision

Cashierless stores are the next big revolution in the world of e-commerce. A cashierless store is one where customers can shop like they would do at any retail store but can leave without having to wait in a long queue for billing or checkout. The idea of a cashierless store is to streamline the entire shopping experience with an autonomous checkout process.

These cashierless stores rely extensively on sensors, sensory data, and use of AI-powered computational skills to deliver a seamless user experience. Now, you can walk into a cashierless store in Utrecht city centre. The Netherlands, which has been at the edge of delivering leading AI-powered experiences, has already seen stores that allow for app-based checkout and in-store robotic sorting, and now the gradual switch to cashierless stores is here.

A checkout free store in Utrecht

In Utrecht City Centre, Aldi Netherlands has opened a new checkout free store concept. Called Aldi Shop & Go, this new retail store is meant to further the idea of cashierless stores in the Netherlands. The store is part of an innovation project from Aldi Netherlands and the technology has been developed in association with AI infrastructure specialist Trigo Vision.

The retail store operator is ensuring that AI technology being deployed at the checkout free store does not record facial data, eye scans or other biometric features.

Jan Oostvogels, Chief Executive of Aldi Holding B.V., says, “As Aldi in the Netherlands, we are very proud to be able to test this innovation project in Utrecht together with our customers.”

“It fits our strategy as a discounter to make shopping as easy as possible for our customers. After all, our experience shows that our customers appreciate quick and easy processes at the checkouts. Our test shop in Utrecht fits this perfectly,” he told European Supermarket Magazine.

A sensory vision for retail future

At the centre of this new checkout free store from Aldi Netherlands is a combination of shelf sensors and roof-mounted cameras to record all product movements. All the recorded activity is then assigned to the right customers as they make their way around the shop.

A customer simply needs to scan a QR code generated at the Aldi Netherlands store and all of their purchases will be automatically mapped using these sensors and added to their shopping cart. While leaving the store, a customer needs to scan the code again to complete the payment process. The whole flow of activity is designed to be contactless and completed automatically.

For Aldi Netherlands, the opening of this new store powered by sensors, computer vision, and artificial intelligence is the first step in bringing a new form of shopping experience to Dutch customers. For Aldi, this is “the beginning of a new phase, in which customers can experience the new way of shopping for the first time.”

AI and computer vision to deliver unique shopping experience

Cashierless stores became the need of the hour after shopping experience around the world was plagued by long checkout time. For consumers, it was clear that their shopping experience would be greatly elevated if the checkout process was faster, and they could move in and out of the store without having to worry about the checkout process.

For that to happen, there was a need for shops that either had more checkout counters or a checkout free experience. The latter seems to have emerged as the most convenient option and Amazon has already laid a roadmap for such an experience with its cashierless stores called Amazon Go. With the retail giant setting the roadmap, the adoption is picking up across the world.

Utrecht City is getting its own taste of cashierless store experience with Aldi Netherlands. This kind of shopping experience is possible thanks to advanced artificial intelligence, computer vision, and access to high performance computing. At every juncture of a cashierless store, customers are knowingly or unknowingly met by a sensor.

This sensor is meant to track the products they pick or put back and their movement across the store. Everytime they add an item to their shopping bag, a digital twin of that shopping bag is created with the same item. A customer simply needs to checkout online to get a truly contactless and cashierless shopping experience.

However, to translate that sensory data into actionable items, deep learning and AI is used, and are trained on a number of items to accurately distinguish between oranges and anything that looks like an orange. This training data is often the difference between a great cashierless shopping experience and a mediocre shopping experience.

“With Aldi Shop & Go, we have developed a concept that brings together the discount idea and computer vision technology – always with the aim of making shopping as easy as possible,” Sinanudin Omerhodzic, chief technology officer of Aldi Einkauf SE & Co. oHG, told ESM.

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