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Ahold Delhaize Testing Tiny Plug-and-Play Store

Trailer-sized unit in the Netherlands offers checkout-free shopping
Photograph courtesy of Ahold Delhaize

ZAANDAM, Netherlands In yet another iteration of the fast-evolving field of checkout-free stores, Ahold Delhaize’s Albert Heijn division is testing a tiny, portable store that uses computer vision and weight sensors to provide checkout-free shopping.

The debut unit, developed in partnership with U.S.-based startup AiFi and Dutch bank ING, is located in front of Albert Heijn’s support office and Ahold Delhaize’s headquarters in Zaandam in the Netherlands and will be tested by the company’s employees over the next two months. Ahold Delhaize expects the store, branded under the company’s small-store Albert Heijn to Go concept, could be relocated to another location in the Netherlands later this year.

Just 14 square meters, or about 150 square feet—about the size of a single-wide trailer home—the tiny convenience store is packed with innovations “that make it possible to buy something as if you were taking it out of your refrigerator,” Ahold Delhaize said. There is no checkout, and consumers do not need to scan products.

The new unit, which is something like a walk-in vending machine, will be stocked with convenience items such as drinks and sandwiches and is among a wide variety of such stores in development, including several iterations by Ahold Delhaize. A separate Albert Heijn store inside the headquarters lobby in Zaandam uses a “Tap to Go” technology, which allows shoppers to pay for each item they take by tapping an electronic shelf tag with a shopping card or mobile app.

Ahold Delhaize, which launched the concept two years ago, is still testing the technology at several locations in the Netherlands, officials said. The retailer said it would also be testing a driverless mobile store in the United States.

The industry has seen expansion of computer vision-assisted stores worldwide in recent months, including with Amazon Go units and partnerships between retailers and tech startups, such as deals between Grabango and Giant Eagle; Zippin and Lojas Americanas; and Trigo Vision and Tesco. In addition to providing new conveniences for shoppers, these stores can also provide the retailer with rich data on customer shopping patterns that can aid assortment, enable personalized offers and engender loyalty, as well as potentially save on labor.

“Convenience for our customers comes first. This latest concept not only makes shopping very easy—due to its autonomous nature, this ‘plug and play’ store can be placed at locations where there is a temporary need for a small store, from offices or university campuses to residential areas under construction that do not yet have shopping facilities,” said Marit van Egmond, president of Albert Heijn. “A second advantage is that the store can always be open, which is useful for people who are on the road very early or very late.”

The store will open its doors to shoppers with a swipe of their credit or debit card. Inside the store, shoppers can take items from the shelves in the manner of an Amazon Go store. A screen near the exit door will show customers their bill total, and their payment is processed automatically.

AiFi, based in Santa Clara, Calif., calls the unit a NanoStore. Steve Gu, CEO and co-founder, explained how it works: “We develop cutting-edge computer vision and sensing technologies to enable automated checkout. Cameras see where you are in the store and associate product items to your virtual basket. In addition, in-store sensors keep track of products that are taken off or put back on the shelves.”

“Multiple sensing modalities work like a symphony to accurately decipher who is grabbing what, instantaneously,” he said. “As a result, customers can enjoy ultra-convenient and delightful shopping with lightning speed. The cameras determine the position of customers in the store without face recognition. They only register shapes and [arm] movements.”

A version of this story first appeared in Winsight Grocery Business, a sister publication of CSP Daily News.

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