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John Ryan

What’s an App: The Seamless Retail Dilemma

Technology can still be a barrier for some, and that’s something retailers should consider




PICKING UP ON A column penned by a correspondent a couple of months back, it’s important to ask a simple question: What’s an app?

Visiting the newly opened Aldi checkout-free store (an experiment) in Greenwich in Southeast London, it becomes apparent how the bubble that is the middle of the big metropolises tends to burst just a few miles from its central point.

The store in question had been open for just a couple of weeks (this was at the end of January) and there was a convenience Sainsbury’s store just across the small square on which the Aldi was situated. The Aldi actually looked newer and better. Yet a steady flow of shoppers was to be seen heading from it to the safe-haven that was the checkout-equipped Sainsbury’s.

The problem, of course, was the matter of entry. To get into the new Aldi store shoppers had to download an app, link it to one of their bank cards and then generate a QR code that would make the barriers at the front of the store open. This was proving too much for many and in spite of an interior that would be a contender in the good-looking convenience store stakes, it was all a bit difficult.

There remains a considerable hurdle that retailers need to clear if they are to make seamless retail an everyday reality, and yes, somebody really was querying what an app was.

For Amazon, it’s a different matter as most people who have a phone have probably already downloaded the Seattle giant’s app for online, rather than physical, shopping. For Aldi it was another step that needed to be cleared by shoppers and some were struggling.


In truth, these are teething problems and will be overcome, but perhaps contrary to the thoughts of those hurrying through downtown Manhattan, Chicago or central London, not everybody is quite as tech savvy as might be imagined. There is still a considerable way to go.



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