Page last updated at 10:46 GMT, Friday, 27 June 2008 11:46 UK

A supermarket, but not as we know it

By Steve Rosenberg
BBC News, Toenisvorst

I've never met a shop assistant quite like Roger before.

He has a head like a goldfish bowl, eyes like ping pong balls and as for his body - well, that looks suspiciously like a rubbish bin.

Roger the Robot
Consistently high levels of customer service, except when he gets lost

Roger is the resident robot at Germany's new Future Store, in Toenisvorst, near Dusseldorf in western Germany.

Sporting a dashing blue bow-tie and flashing orange hair, he trundles up and down the aisles telling customers about the innovations that make this one of the world's most hi-tech hypermarkets.

So what - apart from Roger - makes the store of the future different from the shops of the present?

Well, for a start, here you can use your mobile phone to help you with your shopping.

In the dairy section I meet Dagmar and her family.

Rather bizarrely, they are pointing their mobile phone at a tub of butter.

With free software from the supermarket, the telephone has been transformed into a mobile shopping assistant.

Using the camera on the phone, Dagmar can scan the barcodes of her own shopping.

That reduces shopping time and stress.

"Shopping's become much quicker," Dagmar explains. "Now I don't have to queue up at a regular check-out."

Instead, when she is ready to pay, Dagmar presses a button on her mobile.

Seconds later, a single barcode for all her items pops up on the display.

New concepts

At an automated pay station by the exit, Dagmar places her phone in a barcode reader to register the final amount. She can then pay by cash, credit or debit cards, or by fingerprint (if she is signed up for fingerprint shopping).


Steve Rosenberg checks out the Future Store's shopping innovations

Soon shoppers will even be able to pay with the help of radio waves, by placing their mobiles next to a special reader.

But there is more to this store than just mobiles.

At the meat counter, there is an "intelligent freezer" where all the packaging contains microchips.

By using radio waves, the store is then able to track how much meat is left in the freezer.

At the fish counter, a hi-tech interactive video game is projected onto the floor.

Customers can run around chasing (but never catching) computer-generated fish in a virtual sea.

"We are testing out new technologies and new concepts for the shopping of tomorrow," Antonia Voerste from Metro Group tells me.

"We're confident that customers are going to like the new shopping experience."

They are certainly going to like the wine department - there is an automated wine tasting machine there with 16 bottles in it.

Just insert the chip card, and you can sample up to six glasses of wine, free.

Cell-phones, automats, robots - it all sounds very space-age.

But what if you do not want an automated shopping experience?

What if you crave a good, old-fashioned cashier and queue?

Teething troubles

"If you want to shop like you shopped before there's nothing to prevent you," says supermarket spokesman Daniel Kitscha.

Roger the Robot and shopper
Shopping in the future could be a hi-tech experience
"The point here is to provide more options. More options means more convenience."

The Future Store is like a giant shopping laboratory for testing the latest retail innovations.

Dagmar is one of 100 customers who have signed up to try out the mobile shopping software.

As with all new technologies, there are still teething troubles.

Take Roger the robot. By the end of the day, he has lost his way a little and has got stuck in the bicycle department.

Roger urgently needs to recharge his batteries.

Mind you, after a hard day at work, every shop assistant needs to put their feet up!

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