by John Blau

Germany Boast Fully Automated Supermarket

Dec 15, 20032 mins
Data Center

At one of Metro AG’s Extra supermarket outlets in the industrial Ruhr Valley city of Rheinberg, Germany, about the only thing automated systems won’t do is place a shopper’s groceries in her car.

This is the retail giant’s experiment begun in April known as the Future Store. Here, a shopper pushes a cart equipped with a mini-PC. The cart-mounted device lets a shopper scan the bar codes of items she selects and calculates a running tab. In the produce aisle, scales with digital cameras differentiate tomatoes from apples and provide price-label printouts. Kiosks offer advice on wine and meat selections. A wireless LAN guides shoppers through the store to the products they’re seeking. And self-service checkouts make payments automatic.

Shoppers don’t have to use this high-tech gear, but as of October, the Future Store initiative was delivering results that many retailers would die for: a 30 percent increase in the number of new customers and a rising share (up to 43 percent, from 30 percent) of regular patrons using the IT shopping tools. Shoppers gave the highest ratings (64 percent approval) to the store’s “wine assistant” kiosk, while self-checkout came in second. Another finding, according to a study conducted by The Boston Consulting Group, was that users of the new technologies tend to be volume buyers, such as families.

“What we’re seeing is that customers who use the new technologies like the Personal Shopping Assistant mini-computer typically have more time to shop and buy more,” says Metro spokesman Albrecht von Truchsess. “They like being able not only to keep a running tab of their purchases but also to learn about specials and locate products.”

Metro is mum on how much the company and its partners have invested in Future Store. During this testing stage, the company prefers to talk less about return on investment than it does “return on opportunity,” says Future Store project manager Gerd Wolfram. Metro is collaborating with more than 40 partners, including Cisco, IBM, Oracle and SAP. “All of them participate in the costs?and the opportunities,” says Wolfram. One thing’s for certain: A lot of players in retail and IT will be sure to keep watch on the future of this store.