IT innovation in our stores

With the introduction of electronic shelf labels (ESLs), we have taken an important step towards digital transformation in our stores – and increased customer satisfaction at the same time. The ESL project has been a success not only throughout Germany, but also internationally. Find out here why it wasn’t always easy, but was definitely worth it! 

ESLs: small but significant changes. 

The work of the Electronic Shelf Labels project team, which is part of International Transformation Organisation, has a direct impact on all customers who shop at ALDI SOUTH every day – not just in Germany, but also internationally. Even if it’s perhaps not immediately obvious: 99.9% of our stores now use ESLs to display prices and other product information in digital form. So why have some customers not noticed this? Lars, IT Manager and team lead, explains: “Our customers are used to always finding the information they need in the same place. So we didn’t make any significant changes to the size of the price cards. The only difference: they are now digital – and not printed on paper.” But first things first .. 

From the initial idea … 

Our journey towards introducing ESLs began in 2019. Our aim was to further improve the shopping experience for our customers, while also increasing efficiency in our stores. The ESLs make it possible to update prices and product information in real time. 

… via challenges along the way … 

The implementation of ESLs in our stores was linked to the introduction of mobile devices in the stores, as this was the only way that we could use the required app from the ESL manufacturers. There are also several ESL controllers in the stores that transmit information to the labels via WLAN. We developed a software component that migrates data from our ALDI systems to the manufacturer’s cloud systems and produces formats that we want to display on the ESLs. The volume of data was a major challenge: the complexity of the project and, at the same time, the amount of data continued to increase as more stores, countries and their requirements were added. Initially, our software could not keep up with the global rollout, which led to problems. But our IT team found a solution that enables the software to cope with the large amounts of data from the ALDI universe.  

We regularly subject the software to pen tests to ensure that it is secure and check where there is room for improvement. The prices can therefore only be changed via ALDI’s own system. This can be done by the Buying department, for example, or by store employees when it comes to local price adjustments.  

We were also faced with numerous challenges that were outside the control of our team. We were repeatedly faced with delays on our implementation journey, as we encountered many obstacles such as supply chain problems due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the blockage of the Suez Canal and volcanic eruptions. “We didn’t let these obstacles get us down. Our team works in an agile way and was therefore able to react flexibly and develop innovative solutions to overcome the challenges,” Lars recalls. We also work closely together with suppliers and partners. 

… to 25,000,000 ESLs – a milestone. 

Thanks to the tireless work and commitment of the Electronic Shelf Label team, we have managed to equip over 7,300 stores with more than 25 million small hardware devices. This milestone not only marks significant progress on our digital transformation journey, but also strengthens our position as an innovative and forward-looking retailer. 

Benefits for the stores. 

It is obvious that this solution can save working time in every store. Before the ESLs were introduced, most of the price cards were printed centrally and delivered to the stores by truck along with the goods. The employees then had to swap every single price card by hand. This is now no longer necessary and the time can instead be invested in maintaining the stores or on other projects. An example: if the Store Manager wanted to change the prices for strawberries at the end of the day, they had to print out price cards on site together with the employees, cut them out, remove the old ones and attach the new ones. This was complicated, error-prone and, above all, time-consuming. Thanks to the ESLs, this can now be done in no time with just a few clicks.

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Also of interest for store employees: we’re currently working on a case in which the remaining stock is displayed. For example, how many nut chocolate bars are still on the shelf and how many are in the warehouse? The number of chocolate bars displayed may indicate a need for action and we can then reorder them quickly and easily. 

The project has international relevance. 

Another use case is primarily in use in the US: the small built-in LEDs can show the employees in our Click & Collect stores who are responsible for customer purchases where a product is located. Example: a customer is unable to find the nut chocolate bars among the many different varieties of chocolate. The LED on the ESL flashes briefly and the employee can locate the product and put it in their cart. “I work in Mülheim but have international responsibility for the ESLs. For example, we assess any demands we receive from the US. Can we generate added value from the demand? Is the issue relevant for other countries? As we work in an agile way, we can constantly reprioritise and adapt our product backlog during development. The backlog contains ideas and suggestions that we assess on a regular basis. The new features then remain with us until they are delivered,” explains Lars. 

ESLs are now being used to show details other than just price information. In an increasing number of countries, we are implementing flags or symbols to communicate the origin of products to customers. In Australia, for example, we use kangaroos to indicate Australian products. 

“Reprogram retail” is moving forward. And we want you to be a part of it. 

The introduction of electronic shelf labels is just one of many IT solutions that make it easier for our customers to shop and our employees to work. We are proud to have introduced electronic shelf labels into so many of our stores around the world in such a short time. But: our journey is still ongoing. We are continuing to focus on researching new technologies and developing innovative solutions to make us even more agile. Become a part of it and help us shape the future of retail. Apply now!  

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