Luca Schallenberger vs Neto in Munich
Luca Schallenberger

Discount company Netto has opened a “Pick & Go” branch in Munich. There you can shop without cash registers by following the example of Amazon Go.

Sensors in the ceiling and on the shelves record the products that have been taken away. Payment is made automatically via the app when you leave the store.

Our clerk did some shopping there and was disappointed. Suddenly the app crashes, costing more time and nerves.

The Netto discount store near me is not that innovative. Alternatively: a little shabby and often sold out. Are fresh veggies still on the shelves after 6 p.m.? nothing. So I was even more surprised by the news that out of all people, Edeka’s company Netto has opened the first branch without cash registers in Germany based on the American Amazon Go model. In Munich-Schwabing, to be exact, at Karl-Theodor-Strasse 55. Where “without cash registers” is not quite the case. The branch still offers the option to pay at a regular time.

The idea behind it immediately impressed me. Simply visit the branch, check my entry with the app, take the products off the shelves, and walk out again, relaxed. Scanners know what I took with me and it is deducted via the payment method in the app. Without waiting when you go out? Without quickly taking out my wallet while the clients look back at me with a hard look? brilliant!

Registration issues made me nervous

So I make my way from my hometown of Fürth to Munich. On the train trip, I installed the Netto app and created an account. Then deposit some payment information – in my case PayPal (instead of Paymorrow, making a direct debit) – and verify the age. I enter my date of birth and I encounter the first problem. My camera opens and I’m supposed to scan the QR code. Which? No idea. What I don’t know makes me nervous. The puzzle will be solved in the branch. Time Required: Still just under five minutes.

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The Netto branch of the two-track Karl-Theodor-Straße does not stand out, although there is at least an internal pilot project unique to Germany. From the outside it looks like a completely normal neto, albeit a bit small with just under 220 square metres. The label “first pick and go” branch in Munich only indicates that things are not business as usual here. Rewe’s competitor is just the opposite.

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In front of the shop I read the flyer for the “Pick & Go” available. I was immediately contacted by a woman responsible for all questions regarding the “Pick & Go” process. I finally got a QR code from them to verify my age. So: take out your ID and show it. Once stored, the “age of majority” is permanently saved in the application. My work, I think. Depending on how you feel, you can also ask questions about data protection here.

Always on the lookout: Scanners notice everything

The app publishes a QR code that I hold over a scanner at the entrance. A small barrier opens and I can start shopping. I put the cell phone in my pocket and close the app, but don’t let go. This will be important later.

Even people who don’t have a “Pick & Go” option can shop here. That is why the entrance and exit are divided into two parts and there is also a cash desk. But only one.

The first thing I notice in the store is the ceiling. Everywhere are black circular scanners, cables and something like switch boxes where the cables gather. The technology comes from Trigo Vision. Scanners capture all my movements and track me through the store. I don’t think that’s scary. According to Netto, the faces will not be recognized, and the data will be processed anonymously. Everything is GDPR compliant.

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I feel like I’m in a sci-fi movie and I finally head to the first shelf like any other at the discount store. There are no visually recognizable devices, although there are scanners on the shelves as well. The structure and scope of Netto stores are also the same. Fruit and vegetable section at the entrance and spirits at the exit.

I get Trophrotes juice (pink) and put it in my cart. Since I’m still invited to friends’ homes in the evenings, I pack snacks. Pringles, chocolate seafood, a bar of Milka chocolate—and a bottle of Jägermeister. The age verification has already paid off. Also: a couple of pretzels for a home drive, deodorant and an avocado.

Scanners also recognize returned products

I want to know what happens when I put a product aside. Will scanners recognize that, too? Neto thinks this is not a problem. So the avocado goes back to the shelf and I take another one shortly thereafter. I don’t trust it yet and am afraid to pay for two avocados now. I will find out eventually.

Netto and Trigo chose the site because many young people and students live here. They will be among the first to adopt such technology, Trigo said in a press release. This statement does not match my impression of the store. Especially the old people over the age of 70 are shopping with me. During my shopping spree, no one uses the “Pick & Go” process, everyone pays “normally” at checkout. Is it the day and time? I’ll be there around 3:30 PM on a Saturday afternoon.

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Return to the exit. I take my cell phone out of my pocket and open the Netto app. I noticed it got stuck in my mind: the app crashed and I was logged out. So I will sign up again. To checkout, I will need the QR code mentioned at the beginning to complete the purchase. But this can no longer be found. Annoyed, I walk into the store and ask the staff what I can do now.

The app crashes and the account is logged out: Does the Pick & Go app still work?

My concern is that I will have to return all items again and check in again. Of course, this will only be time saving and stress-free. The store staff sends me to the woman in front of the door, who in the meantime works with a man to report a ‘Pick & Go’ action. I invite both from the inside, I do not want to go through the door, after all, I have not paid for the products (yet). Meanwhile, have a look at the clock: Well, I still have time before my ICE comes back. However, if I’m under time pressure, I won’t complete the purchase anymore. The Pick & Go branch is, in fact, specifically for such situations.

The people in charge of “Pick & Go” told me the store could run out. But they don’t seem quite sure about that. They remember a portion of my purchases. More precisely: avocado and Jägermeister, so that later you can check whether the deduction is correct. Checking out isn’t strictly necessary, but just there to get an overview, as they say. Once the scanners no longer detect me, the purchase is considered complete. I walk in the direction of the subway and feel upset as if I stole things.

Three minutes later, my cell phone vibrated and PayPal replied: “I paid €24.51 to Netto Marken-Discount Stiftung & Co. KG.” It worked! Avocados were counted only once. Although the application crashes. not bad! I can find the receipt in the Netto app. I can also lodge an objection that the items should have been discounted frequently.

My conclusion: I come home with mixed feelings. “Pick & Go” will be a time-saving and nerve-saving option for shopping – everything will run smoothly. Not that it disappointed me and dampened my original euphoria. But the technology that was still on when the app crashed caught my eye. To be fair, the pilot is a pilot project and the initial difficulties will likely go away. For a snack at the train station or if you need something for your next party, I can well imagine it.

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