The trial store allows you to buy items without going through a checkout. You simply scan an app to enter, pick up your items, and leave, and the money is automatically taken from your bank account.
The store, known as Aldi Shop & Go, is located in Greenwich, a commuter town close to the center of London and the Canary Wharf financial hub. I decided to check it out, and went two days in a row.
Amazon has been rolling out similar stores across London using its Just-Walk-Out technology, branded as Amazon Fresh stores in the UK and Amazon Go in the US. Aldi’s new store is just 2.5 miles from the nearest Amazon Fresh.
From the outside, the Aldi store was perhaps a little underwhelming and not hugely visible from the main road it was on.
It was also just doors down from a Sainsbury’s store, which is one of the UK’s biggest supermarket chains. One of the advantages of autonomous stores is that they can be built in “food deserts” – areas where people are far away from shops – and can be open 24/7 without the expense of keeping the store fully staffed, but neither of those were the case here.
… as well as a cordoned-off area to manage a line. Though there was no one waiting outside when I arrived, probably because the opening hype had died down a little.
There were lots of signs outside with information on how the store worked …
… and instructions on how to use the app, which was specific to this store and differed from the main Aldi app that some shoppers may already have.
Once you’ve got the app, you had to go through a tutorial explaining how the store worked. The app then generated a QR code that you swipe on the entry gates to get in.
It look me a few attempts to swipe my phone properly, but I got through.
The store uses software from AiFi, which uses cameras to track which items customers are picking up in real-time. By making their stores autonomous, retailers need fewer staff and less checkout space, so they can operate smaller stores, like this compact store in Greenwich.
Once I was past the gates, it seemed just like a normal Aldi shop.
There were four main aisles, selling a range of products from fresh produce …
… to cupboard staples …
The store sold largely Aldi-branded products …
… though there were a few recognizable brands.
Like at a regular Aldi, the products all have barcodes, although you don’t scan these at any point during your visit. I presumed they were used by staff for monitoring stock and sorting deliveries, and the products would have been made at a factory producing Aldi items for regular stores that need barcodes, anyway.
The store was as busy as you’d expect on a weekday in the early afternoon – there were a few people there who seemed to be mainly there for the novelty of it. There were a lot of staff to help customers out with questions – probably just as many employees as there was staff.
The app updated after I got in and gave some more tips on how to use the store as well as the option to repeat the tutorials.
I picked up a few items and put them back down to see if they would be added to my receipt or not. The app doesn’t let you check which items are currently in your virtual basket while you’re in the store, so I couldn’t find out until the end of my visit whether Aldi got my purchases right or not.
The store had a pick-and-mix bakery section, too.
I put three different items in a bag because I was intrigued to see whether the store could recognize each pastry individually as they all looked quite similar.
Disappointingly, the store didn’t have a middle aisle. This section of the store features heavily-discounted products, ranging from clothing and camping gear to tech items and kids toys, that change every few weeks and is an Aldi staple and fan favorite. The concept encourages visitors to return to the store so that they can see which items are on offer that week.
I was surprised to see an Aldi without a middle aisle – but the store was quite compact and Aldi may have relied on the unique shop-and-go format to draw in punters instead.
I decided to pick up some alcohol from the store, too.
There was a sign in the alcohol section saying that you had to verify your age either using the app or via a store worker.
But on my first visit, I didn’t see the sign and just walked out of the store. When I was leaving, I asked a member of staff what I had to do to leave the store and opened my app but the employee told me to just step near the gate and it would open. It didn’t. They then used an electronic device to overrule the gate and let me through.
It was only after returning home when I opened the app again that I saw this message saying that I needed to have my age verified, even though this was hours after I’d left the store. It hadn’t come up on my phone as a push notification and I hadn’t noticed it at all when I opened the app to attempt to leave the store. As a result, I was able to purchase alcohol without my age being verified.
I tried using the age-verification software, but it didn’t work. I thought I either looked too young or it didn’t work because I wasn’t in the store.
On my second visit, I tried to use the age-verification software provided on the Aldi app by Yoti a few times but it still didn’t work. An Aldi spokesperson told Insider: “This store utilises the very latest in retail technology offering Aldi’s award-winning products and unbeatable prices to customers in a new and innovative way. We are pleased with how the trial is operating so far and will continue to monitor it closely.”
When I was leaving the store on my second visit, however, a member of staff was asking every customer as they left whether they had alcohol in their bag. After I said yes, the employee asked for my ID.
One member of staff had been telling customers that the store was having a lot of problems with the age-verification software, while another told me that there was “no way” that Yoti would let me purchase alcohol without having my ID checked because I look young for my age.
I also got a push notification saying that I needed to verify my age before leaving the store, though this didn’t appear to come through until after I’d already left.
There was a separate set of gates to exit the store, located next to the entry gates. You were meant to just step in front of the gates and they would open automatically to leave the store, but both times I visited a member of staff had to scan a device to let me through.
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