Upscaling Security for Self-Service Shopping

Aisle 24 is a chain of 24-hour convenience stores popping up across Canada. The concept behind these high-tech, cashier-free markets is to provide shoppers with a frictionless way to pick up groceries and last minute items.

“These are hyper-local urban grocery stores,” said John Douang, co-founder and CEO of Aisle 24. “They’re accessible to anyone who has an account with us. Aisle 24 has become a really popular amenity in upscale residential buildings and universities. People can go shopping in their pajamas and grab a snack at three in the morning if they want, without ever having to leave the premises. It’s the epitome of convenience.”

To shop, customers download an Aisle 24 mobile app and register for membership, a process that takes less than 60 seconds, during which they tie their credit card and photo to their account. Then customers can use the app to gain access rights to a store. Once inside, they can browse, load their cart, and then self-checkout at the register kiosk.

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Complex Access Control Made Seamless for Customers

Because Aisle 24 stores are cashierless operations, the corporation has been particularly attentive to creating a secure environment for shoppers. They hired Smart Installs, a systems integrator and Axis partner, to devise an automated security infrastructure that could easily adapt to the footprint of individual stores. The solution integrates a mix of technologies from Axis—surveillance cameras, intercoms, and mini speakers.

“We chose Axis technology because it’s built on an open platform, which allows for a lot of third-party integration,” said Ken Oki, managing director for Smart Installs. “That was important for Aisle 24 since it gives them a wider range of options for current and future customization.”

For instance, because community format stores have street-level access and can be opened by anyone with an Aisle 24 membership, Smart Installs implemented a dual interlocking door system for added safety. Once the customer passes through the public-facing door controlled by a 2N IP Verso intercom for security, they’re held in a vestibule until that door closes. A second 2N intercom unlocks the inner door to the store. However, Aisle 24’s resident format stores only have a single door lock configuration since they are located inside secure complexes and are only accessible to residents of that property.

“We want the customer experience to be as natural and secure as possible,” explained Ken Oki. “When they approach the store, they just hit the ACCESS icon on their phone app and the Bluetooth-enabled 2N intercom unlocks the outer door. When they enter the vestibule, the second intercom displays a WAIT message until the outer door closes and locks. Then the inner intercom displays an UNLOCKED message and they can enter the store. They never have to touch the intercoms.”

Once inside the store, patrons are recorded by a network of Axis M-line cameras purposely angled to monitor their movement through the store and the checkout kiosk, which generally discourages theft. As they exit, an Axis P-line pinhole modular camera discreetly captures a closeup of their face. The footage can be used in conjunction with Aisle 24’s AI analytics and point-of-sale records to help franchise owners investigate inventory losses and reconcile any discrepancies with individual customer purchases.

In keeping with the unattended business model, the security system also allows cashierless store restocking through the versatile 2N intercom’s ability to also accept pin codes. Aisle 24 issues its product vendors unique pin codes to unlock stores so they can restock store shelves without the franchise owner needing to be on premises. To support popular third-party shopping services, Aisle 24 can also dynamically issue temporary, time-based pin codes for individual personal shoppers to access a specific store.

Running a Profitable Business

Aisle 24’s high-tech security systems link to a cloud video management system that analyzes data from the Axis cameras, 2N intercoms, and point-of-sale registers to provide franchise owners with strategic business intelligence that can help them reduce shrinkage, analyze sales, adjust product mix, reconcile inventory, and improve merchandising.

“I’m proud of the solution we’ve developed in conjunction with Axis and Smart Installs, and our own development team,” said Douang. “Despite Aisle 24 stores being cashierless operations, the technology we’ve installed is helping franchises maintain industry average shrinkage which is great.”

“We also equip our stores with Axis mini speakers so we can pipe in music to elevate the customer experience,” said John Douang. “It sets a mood and has proven to boost product sales.”

Poised for Future Enhancements

Having an open platform framework affords Aisle 24 the ability to continue adding new features to the security system that can enhance operations. It also gives them the flexibility to apply existing security features in new ways. For instance, Douang likes that he could use the people counting feature of the cameras and the VMS to manage the number of shoppers allowed in the store at the same time should local ordinances set limits on occupancy. Currently, Aisle 24 uses the intercoms to communicate visually with shoppers—a green UNLOCK symbol and a WAIT icon—but there are plans to eventually include verbal directions through the intercoms as well.

Because the mini speakers also support two-way communication, Aisle 24 is considering implementing real-time communication between shoppers and franchise operators.

Ambitious Rollout Plans

Currently, Aisle 24 has about 20 locations in Ontario and Quebec, with plans to launch at least 40 more stores in Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, and Halifax by the end of the year. Most stores will range between 1,200 and 1,800 square feet, depending on available real estate, though some might be as compact as 350 square feet. Plans are also in the works to open a full-scale, 8,000 square foot cashierless market in Goose Bay, Labrador, an area that lacks the conveniences of an urban city. While Aisle 24 is currently focused on Canada, Douang says the company has set its sights on expanding into global markets throughout the United States, South America, and parts of Europe and Asia.

“Our Axis security solution affords our customers a quick and effortless way to pop into our stores, grab some fresh and prepared foods, beverages, personal care products, and other popular items and be on their way,” said Douang. “Given today’s busy lifestyle, people appreciate having that kind of convenience in their neighborhood or right in the building where they live.”

Douang asserts that the Aisle 24 cashierless business model, with its emphasis on safety and security, provides unique benefits for franchise owners as well. “An Aisle 24 store is a great way to monetize empty space and build a profitable business that doesn’t require constant oversight.”

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