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Innovations Abound

Today’s shopper is more time-starved than ever before. While a plethora of new technologies promise to ease the shopping experience, retailers need to analyze current and future consumer trends to understand which solutions will create a unique, satisfying shopping experience—both now and in the future.

“Innovation is key for inventing new ideas,” Dr. Gerd Wolfram, managing director, information technology, for METRO Group, Düsseldorf, Germany, said during the ERI eXchange. The event, which was sponsored by the now-defunct Retail Systems Alert Group, was held in Boston in June. “However,” he continued, “retailers need to consider the future of the industry, consumer needs and external trends if they really want to help the consumer in the future.”

Eager to respond to this demand, METRO Group is already considering its options to improve store-level visits. Unlike most retailers that rely solely on internal test labs and limited store-level pilots when evaluating new solutions, METRO Group tests all new concepts and technology platforms at its Future Store, located in Rheinberg, Germany.

Among the many initiatives the store is testing, METRO is bullish on its Personal Shopping Assistant (PSA) solution. This small mobile computer, complete with a touchscreen and barcode scanner, is attached to the shopping cart. It eases the shopper’s visit by delivering individualized shopping lists, comparative offers, an overview of what has already been scanned and placed in the trolley, and it even features electronic-payment options.

However, the chain is exploring how to further leverage the power of this application by transitioning functionality to a more “familiar” device. “Fifty-eight percent of shoppers are using cell phones,” he said during the keynote session, “Dominate the Competition With Chainwide Innovation.”

“Looking ahead, shoppers will expect to improve their store experience by gaining more functionality through their cell phone,” Wolfram noted.

The cell phone has the capacity to support many retail-level applications, including delivering targeted promotions and shopping lists. However, their functionality doesn’t stop there.

“While the number of shoppers who utilize our PSA increases each year, within the next five years the experience that the PSA currently delivers could be available through the mobile phone,” he said.

The mobile phone can also be the link retailers and shoppers need to bridge the shopping experience from the consumer’s kitchen to the store’s sales floor. For example, the industry has been promising the “smart refrigerator” and “smart pantry” for at least 10 years.

As RFID (radio-frequency-identification) tags move to an item level on consumer product goods (CPGs), these concepts could find their way to the masses sooner than expected. And by tying in the functionality of mobile phones, smart household components’ potential could be unleashed even faster.

“As items are removed from a smart refrigerator, RFID tags are electronically read and a virtual inventory is calculated,” Wolfram explained. “This will also create a wish or shopping list that can directly be delivered to the shopper’s mobile phone to remind them of what they need to purchase during store visits.”

Wolfram did not reveal any definite plans to test these solutions.