Chinese cashless supermarket technology eyes Europe

Een klant scant zijn smartphone bij het binnengaan van een met AiFi-technologie uitgeruste supermarkt.

Chinese software company AiFi has opened the world' largest autonomous supermarket in Shanghai. AiFi has no ambitions as a retailer but wants to demonstrate its technology to interested parties. One of those parties has already jumped at the chance: Dutch company Wundermart, which is also active in Brussels. Albert Heijn also makes use of the technology. 


Artificially intelligent cameras

The supermarket has a surface area of about 376 sq. metres, making it the largest of its kind, according to AiFi. A system of artificial intelligence (AI)-equipped cameras allows customers to enter, shop and walk out of the store without even coming near a cash register.


In itself, this system is not new. Amazon has also been experimenting with a similar shopping system for some time in its Amazon Go shops. Both operate based on the same principle. Cameras follow the customers around the store, and the system keeps track of which products they take off the shelves. Upon exiting the store, they automatically receive their bill through an app.


Not a Chinese Amazon Go clone

AiFi uses the store to showcase its AI software which is making it all possible. The Amazon Go shops are, in fact, operated by the internet giant itself. However, Jeff Bezos' company also offers its 'Just Walk Out' software to third parties.


So, is AiFi nothing more than a Chinese Amazon Go clone? There are distinct differences. AiFi relies purely on a system of cameras. Other similar concepts also use weight sensors in the store shelves to better register the products a customer takes off the shelves. AiFi opted for a hybrid concept: if a customer still prefers to go through a cash register, they have the option to do so.


Thanks to Dutch Wundermart, also in Brussels

The technology is also making its way to our region. A few weeks ago, AiFi announced that it had closed a deal with the Dutch company Wundermart. They developed a staff-free shopping concept used for hotel lobbies, for instance. The company now has around 60 locations, including one in Brussels. 


All those existing stores will get equipped with AiFi's cost-efficient system. Wundermart also wants to integrate the technology into a software package that could get used to run stores autonomously. They can then offer the software to third parties. The ambitions are high: Wundermart aims to have more than 1,000 stores "in the near future". The digital stores AH to go, introduced by Albert Heijn in 2019, also use the same technology.