METRO RECATS TO SURVEY ON FUTURE STORE

DUSSELDORF, Germany -- In its first analysis of customer response to the technologies offered at its Future Store, Metro Group said it found a "very positive reaction," but conceded that the store's systems needed to be better promoted to achieve more regular usage.Metro Group, Germany's largest retailer, attracted considerable media attention when it opened Future Store, a remodeled Extra supermarket

DUSSELDORF, Germany -- In its first analysis of customer response to the technologies offered at its Future Store, Metro Group said it found a "very positive reaction," but conceded that the store's systems needed to be better promoted to achieve more regular usage.

Metro Group, Germany's largest retailer, attracted considerable media attention when it opened Future Store, a remodeled Extra supermarket in Rheinberg, Germany, near its headquarters here, at the end of April. With supermodel and Rheinberg native Claudia Schiffer on hand at the opening, the store was touted as having the largest collection of in-store technologies ever assembled under one roof (SN, May 5, 2003).

The technologies include an intelligent produce scale, seven different kiosks, a personal shopper assistant attached to shopping carts, smart shelves, self-checkout lanes, electronic shelf labels, and anti-theft portals.

Metro engaged Boston Consulting Group to survey shoppers before and after the store re-opening to assess customer response to the technologies. In July, 700 consumers were queried by phone or in-store. Results of the survey were released last month.

According to the survey, 77% of shoppers have used at least one application one time. In addition, the percentage of very satisfied shoppers jumped from 34% to 52% since the re-opening, and nearly one-third of shoppers are new customers. In addition, since the re-opening, 42% of customers shop at the store more frequently, while 20% shop there less frequently. "We didn't expect so much usage and quality feedback," Dr. Gerd Wolfram, project manager of the Metro Group Future Store Initiative, told SN.

Asked whether the "Claudia Schiffer factor" -- the intense media coverage -- may have skewed the results, he acknowledged there was a lot of hype in the first few months, but then it settled down. "Now, it's about customer reaction to the technology," he said, adding that the store has very typical German shoppers.

Based on the reaction so far, Metro is "cautiously going forward" with other in-store tests, said Wolfram. The company will test NCR's FastLane self-checkout lane in another store, and is considering putting the intelligent produce scale, developed by Mettler-Toledo and IBM, in at least 10 more stores beginning next year.

The intelligent scale, or "Veggie Vision," which recognizes produce and prints out price labels, is the most popular technology at the Future Store, the survey found. More than six out of 10 shoppers (62%) said they used the scale at least once (including 56% of those 60 years old and up), and nearly half (46%) used it multiple times. "It's easy to use, makes shopping more convenient, and there's a 'fun factor' to it," said Wolfram.

Still, just one in five shoppers (19%) said they were regular users of the scale, and only 4% to 5% said they were regular users of the kiosks, personal shopping assistant and self-checkout lanes. Wolfram acknowledged that Metro had expected more regular users, but said several factors limited their numbers. These factors included: the overlap of summer holidays during the survey period; lack of time during the shopping trip; the presence of tours that "prevented the real shoppers from using [the technology]," said Wolfram; and insufficient functionality. In addition, he said, the fact that only one store offers these systems holds some shoppers back. "We have a long way to go to make it acceptable to use," he said. "It's not easy."

To increase usage, Metro is adding functionality to the devices, and stepping up the marketing of the store's technology advantages. Marketing efforts include offering discount-point incentives to users, as well as brochures, user testimonials and more in-store demonstrations.

Regarding customer usage of other applications, nearly half (48%) tried one of the product information kiosks. The wine kiosk was given a highly positive rating by 64% of users, the most for any device. Other kiosks are geared toward meat, baby care, CD/DVDs, hair coloration and hair care. Another kiosk serves as a product locator/price checker.

Just under one in four shoppers (24%) said they tried the personal shopping assistant, which is similar to one being tested by Stop & Shop, Quincy, Mass. It consists of a screen attached to a shopping cart that helps shoppers locate products, and it can download a customer's personal shopping list from the Internet. Also, the personal shopping assistant includes a bar-code scanner that shoppers can use to scan products in advance of checking out. Shoppers said they considered obtaining subtotals and price information the top advantage of the device, followed by a faster and more comfortable checkout process.

Wolfram said Metro will follow up changes in the in-store technologies with a new consumer survey next February.

Metro is also assessing the store systems that benefit the store but are not directly used by consumers, such as "smart shelves" that employ RFID (radio frequency identification) tags and readers, and ESLs (electronic shelf labels). Products with RFID tags can be tracked as they are taken off the smart shelves, providing a real-time update of inventory. Wolfram said Metro is still looking for the best way to incorporate this system into employee practices.