Brave New Supermarket

THE LAST TIME I SAW something called a Future Store, it was an A&P that had been renovated into what was supposed to be a prototype for A&Ps to come — though its chief distinction appeared to be a new green and white logo in place of the old red and yellow standby.

At the 2004 National Retail Federation show in New York, Future Store turned out to be something quite different. The Future Store Initiative, as it is formally known, is a project of the METRO Group, based in Dusseldorf, Germany and said to be the world’s fifth largest retail company. Together with some high-powered partners — IBM, Intel, and SAP chief among them — METRO Group has opened an actual Future Store in Rheinberg, a city near Dusseldorf. Apparently sensing that very few Americans are likely to do their grocery shopping in Germany, the NRF exhibit comprised a sort of virtual tour of this “intelligent” store of the future.

If you guessed that the technology driving this intelligence is RFID, go to the head of the class. We learned about the marvels of wireless electronic tagging from our tour guide, Phillipp. He told us over our wireless headsets — in a very limited vocabulary of heavily German-accented English that probably makes him next in line to be governor of California — about the ease with which consumers have shopping lists created for them and transmitted to the store by their RFID-equipped refrigerators; their RFID-equipped shopping carts that locate the items, scan them, and add them to the bill; and, of course, the dynamic inventory control and restocking that take place, all thanks to RFID technology.

Now, if those RFID tags can suggest what to have for dinner and clean up the mess in Aisle 3, I’ll be commuting to Germany for groceries.

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