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There are no baggers at ALDI to pack up your purchases, and no parking lot attendants to round up shopping carts that you need to return yourself. Now, there’s one more job function the no-frills discount grocer may do away with – the cashier.

An ALDI store in suburban Chicago has become the first to test out a checkout-free shopping system, where you can shop and then walk out with your purchases without stopping at a traditional checkout stand. Particularly noteworthy is that it’s the first time the technology has been deployed in an existing, full-sized grocery store and not one specifically designed for cashierless checkout.

The new “ALDIgo” system in Aurora, Illinois is run by Grabango, which so far works primarily with smaller-format convenience stores. A partnership announced several years ago with the Giant Eagle grocery chain raised the prospect of checkout-free shopping rolling out to full-scale grocery stores, but that never happened, as Giant Eagle instead deployed the technology in several of its GetGo convenience stores instead.

“It was important to us to launch this technology in a typical store and not one purpose-built for us,” Grabango CEO Will Glaser said in a statement. As a result, he sees the launch of ALDIgo as “a pivotal moment for the grocery industry.”

The technology uses computer vision to track each item in the store and detect when items are removed from the shelf and placed in your shopping cart. When you’re done shopping, the system already knows the items you’ve selected, so you simply use the Grabango app or a pay station near the exit to settle up, without having to pull out all of your items and scan them one-by-one.

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It’s designed to be seamless, for users and non-users alike. “There are no special shelves, carts, or gates at the entrance,” Grabango points out. And there’s still a traditional cashier in place – for now – for shoppers who prefer checking out the old-fashioned way.

The timing of the announcement is notable, in that it comes just a couple of weeks after Amazon announced it was giving up on its similar “Just Walk Out” technology in its own full-sized Amazon Fresh grocery stores. Amazon’s system seemed game-changing when it was introduced eight years ago to a single small-format Amazon convenience store, and later incorporated into custom-built full-scale Amazon grocery stores.

Amazon is instead shifting Amazon Fresh’s focus to its Dash Cart “smart shopping carts,” claiming the change is in response to feedback from customers. “While they enjoyed the benefit of skipping the checkout line with Just Walk Out, they also wanted the ability to easily find nearby products and deals, view their receipt as they shop, and know how much money they saved while shopping throughout the store,” Amazon spokesperson Jessica Martin explained in a statement.

Grabango says Amazon’s decision has more to do with flawed technology than customer service. Amazon’s system relied on shelf-level sensors, which “has proven to be its Achilles’ heel,” Grabango’s Glaser wrote in a recent blog post. “These sensors, while innovative, necessitate a fixed store layout that clashes with the dynamic nature of retail.” Grabango, in contrast, uses a system of overhead sensors that “sees every item in the store, no matter its location.” So it can be deployed in existing stores, and is unaffected by any layout changes.

ALDI hasn’t said when or whether ALDIgo will be introduced to more of its stores. But Grabango is optimistic it will succeed where Amazon failed. “Success hinges not just on shiny new technologies but on efficiently integrating them with operational realities,” Glaser concluded. While ALDI is embracing the future, “retailers who hesitate will be left behind with a burdensome consumer experience and the high cost of 20th-century checkout.”

The technology rollout comes as more shoppers are turning away from full-scale, full-priced supermarkets to low-cost, limited-selection grocery stores like ALDI. So with the introduction of ALDIgo, grocery shopping at ALDI just might represent the future – in more ways than one.

Image source: Grabango

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