Shopping at the speed of thought

From the digital home, according to the CeBIT exhibitors, the average person should move to the digital store. The largest German retailer Metro Group (in Russia operates the Metro Cash & Carry network) at CeBITe presented its concept of a “store of the future”, based on the ubiquitous use of RFID (RadioFrequency IDentification) technology - radio frequency identification. All products in this store have a special label in the form of a small piece of foil, similar to a postage stamp and containing a small chip on which information about the product is recorded. (This may be just a digital code, like on bar codes, and more detailed information about the expiration date, storage conditions, etc.) Such a label is capable of “responding” to the reader signals. When arriving at the warehouse, pallets of goods pass by the gate with a scanner, and the system checks on the fly whether the goods that were ordered, arrived at the warehouse, what storage conditions are required for them, what is the shelf life, etc.

Based on this information, the cargo is distributed to various warehouse premises. The movers are more like cyborgs: in headphones, in special gloves, also equipped with an RFID reader, they go around the room, obeying voice commands from the warehouse management system that indicates which package to take. The main IT partners of the Metro Group in this project are the leading developer of SAP ERP systems, the largest German telecommunications operator T-Systems, as well as IBM and Intel. However, the most interesting features of the new system provides customers. Metro's buying process now looks like this. The buyer comes to the store, takes the cart, equipped with a screen and wireless communication, and brings the personal card of the buyer to the reader. The smart trolley communicates with the central system and displays an individual shopping list, formed on the basis of previous customer visits to the stores of this network. Next, the cart shows the scheme of the sales area and notes on it shelves with the necessary goods. Approaching them, the buyer can bring the package to the RFID reader, after which the screen will display comprehensive information about the product. Having filled the cart, the buyer approaches the checkout, where a surprise awaits him: the absence of a cashier. To pay, you do not even need to lay out the goods from the basket - all you need to do is to walk past the RFID reader, the signals of which each bank and package will “respond”, after which the total amount is automatically calculated and the money is debited from the bank card. And if you enter the fitting room with a blouse marked with an RFID tag, the system will be able to offer the most suitable options for it in color, size and style of skirts, coats and other items of clothing. The main problems today for RFID are the high cost (now the price of one tag is at least 10–20 cents, which does not allow it to be glued to individual packaging of cheap goods) and security problems. Hackers have already learned how to reprogram tags with a small device the size of a mobile phone, so that, for example, a three-piece woolen suit at the checkout will “respond” like a pair of socks. However, Metro representatives said that all these problems will be solved soon. Many of the principles of the Future Store are already implemented in the experimental Metro store, opened in German Rheinberg. According to the Metro Group, the transfer of store business processes to the use of RFID technologies will allow a twenty percent increase in the carrying capacity of a commercial enterprise and reduce costs in Germany alone by 8.5 million euros per year.