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FULLY-AUTOMATED GROCERY STORES

Since 2020, the retail industry has been changing at lightning speed.

The self-scan checkouts in just about all supermarket chains existed for several years and were ab initialy lukewarmly received by the public, but once the corona virus emerged, there were suddenly long queues in front of the self-scan checkouts. Due to the persistent fear propaganda, people did not even dare to touch the pay machine. They used ear sticks to press their code. Shopping trolleys and door handles were frantically sanitised. Everyone was in a collective hypnosis. Supermarkets took advantage of this to introduce and push through new technologies. Customers rarely have a choice anymore.


In some supermarket chains, there is now only one manned cashregister.

Customers are pushed to use the self-scanning devices. Regularly, payment in cash is also refused. A sign hangs above the checkout stating that the register only accepts payments by card.

Certain supermarket chains like Delhaize, Cora and also some Carrefour sale points may still allow cash payments but change is no longer given by the cashiers. The customer has to place banknotes in a machine and the change rolls out. Old banknotes are not accepted. If the customer does not have another note with him, he has no other choice than to pay with his bank card.


At the end of 2021, the first fully automatic ALDI supermarket was opened in Utrecht ( NL ), which can only be entered with a QR code that has to be created digitally in advance. The QR code will only be issued if the customer has answered all questions. That way, ALDI knows all the personal data of each customer and their personal preferences. The intrusion into private life goes very far.

There are 454 cameras in the supermarket that record every movement. The products on the shelves are on scales. When the customer takes a product from the rack, it is registered by the cameras and the scales. Customers no longer have to queue at a cash register. They no longer pay by card or in cash. When leaving the shop, customers only have to re-scan their QR code and the amount due will automatically go off their account.

This new supermarket formula has been received with varying degrees of success. Some people love it. Convenient. Hygienic. Fast. They no longer have to queue at a till. Others hate in and ignore the store.


While Belgium watched with suspicion what was happening in the Netherlands, Colruyt Group also quietly opened, the very same year, a fully automated OKAY supermarket in the centre of Ghent for which it even received the Mercurius Prize in 2022. That is the most prestigious prize in trade handed over by the Federation of Trade and Services in Belgium to the company with the most daring and innovation in the sector.


Colruyt Group promoted its first fully automated supermarket as follows :

" The Okay Direct shops are open 24/24 and operate automatically, without checkout staff. Products are in cabinets that open with a QR code. The technology detects what is taken out. After paying, the customer can use the QR code to get out again.

It is the first supermarket in Belgium to be accessible 24/7 and also the first place where consumers have the opportunity to buy food at competitive daily prices overnight. Even on a global scale, it is innovative that a shop can be visited by multiple customers at the same time, even if there is no staff present."


Colruyt Group indicated back in 2021 its intention to open more fully automated supermarkets in the near future. It took a while but now the second fully automated supermarket is a fact.

In Lennik ( Flemish Brabant ), the second fully automated supermarket was recently opened. The assortment is still limited but Colruyt has already indicated that it will expand the selection further.


Supermarket chains are powerful rulers. They determine the range and availability of products, how people do their shopping and by what means they are allowed to pay. With a loyalty card, customers can boast of all kinds of discounts and promotions but with that, the supermarket chain immediately knows the buying behaviour of all customers, what they eat, drink, which brands they use and which they do not. The control is increasing.

With fully automated supermarkets, they now also exclude all social contact. People are becoming isolated. Shopping is no longer a social event.


With these new technologies, some sections of the population fall completely out of touch. 5% of the Belgian population has never used a computer, laptop or smartphone. That doesn't seem like much but still represents some 600,000 people. Furthermore, there is also a percentage of people that is not familiar with the internet and QR codes. Think, for example, of the elderly and the poorly educated. Moreover there is also a category that does not have a bank card or credit card. If supermarket chains continue to develop this technology and introduce what is currently in a test phase in every supermarket, the future looks bleak.









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