IT reshapes the supermarket

At an experimental supermarket in the city of Rheinberg, Germany, about the only thing automated systems won’t do is place a shopper’s groceries in the car.

Retail giant Metro AG launched its ‘Future Store’ last April. Shopping carts are equipped with mini-PCs that let the shopper scan the bar codes of items and calculate 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 store 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… 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 collaborating with more than 40 partners, including Cisco Systems Inc., IBM Corp., Oracle Corp. and SAP AG. “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.