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Germany

High-Tech Supermarket Offers Looks into the Future

German shops aren’t normally known for being in the vanguard of global retailing. But the country’s largest retailer, Metro, is hoping to change things with a new supermarket of the future filled with techno gadgets.

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Supermodel Claudia Schiffer tests out the first "Future Store" in Rheinberg.

It’s a common complaint of many visitors to Germany: miserable service and surly store clerks often make shopping an altogether unpleasant experience. Metro’s new “Future Store” supermarket in Rheinberg near Düsseldorf gets around such cranky cashier problems by eliminating the cashier entirely.

Shoppers at the store’s grand opening earlier this week -- including German supermodel Claudia Schiffer -- instead simply made use of an automatic checkout where prices are transmitted to a computer via special price tags. And the computerized cashier is but one of the many new retailing technologies that the Future Store, an adapted outlet of the Extra grocery store chain, is supposed to both showcase and test.

Fruits and vegetables are recognized by digital cameras as they are weighed and the shopping cart is guided by a navigation system that can direct shoppers to past favorite purchases.

“I’ve never seen anything like it, it’s so exciting,” gushed Schiffer. “For me shopping has to go quickly, because I don’t have a lot of time. Here there aren’t any of those long lines that I hate.”

Life-sized petri dish

Besides making life easier for harried supermodels, the Future Store will serve as a life-sized technology petri dish for Metro and over 40 other companies, including U.S. chipmaker Intel and German software giant SAP.

While some shoppers may cherish having a cart that keeps you from getting lost in the frozen foods section, at the heart of the store are special price tags with RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) chips embedded.

The tags on more than 37,000 items transmit the price of the products wirelessly to the computerized checkout as shoppers pass through the cashier area, which then automatically deducts the purchase from the customer's bank or store account. The system will also allow stores to micro-manage inventory, such as making sure all shelves remain filled.

Although Metro CEO Hans-Joachim Körber admitted most of the store’s high-tech gadgets wouldn’t go into mass use for the next five to ten years, he remained sanguine the investment would eventually pay off.

“Whoever is first with all this will also be the first to profit from it. At the end of the day these technologies will be worth it, there’s no doubt about that,” Körber said. Now Germany will just have to figure out a way to automate those gruff public servants.

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