Metro Group Divorcing Grocery Scan From Payment

The German-based retail giant The Metro Group this summer started quietly experimenting with a radical change in supermarket layout and procedure: physically separating where groceries get scanned and where customers make their payments.

The move is designed to both cut costs and accelerate customers through the checkout process, said Gerd Wolfram, the groups' chief technical officer and the managing director of Metro Group Information Technology.

"We've been rethinking the traditional checkout system," Wolfram said. "We made measurements. There's a lot of waiting time" in the traditional checkout approach, as customers grow irksome waiting behind other customers counting out bills, writing checks or fumbling as they try and find their preferred credit card.

Metro has looked into contactless payments which, in theory, might avoid some of those delays, but found a much greater resistance to such technology in Europe than in the U.S.. "It's a cultural problem," Wolfram said, adding that management believed that physically isolating payment seemed to be an approach that European shoppers might accept more easily.

"We separated the scanning process from the paying process, which is even physically separated," he said, adding that they offer both self-checkout and cashier-checkout. "The customer comes to the scanning area then we?as a service?scan the things or the customer scans the things. The customer received the barcode ticket for his goods and he goes to a payment machine. If he pays cash, he can just throw in the coins."

Beyond speed and cost-savings, Wolfram said the chain is hoping the new system will be seen as improving payment privacy "because there is nobody looking over their shoulder."

Metro completely established this new system in store in July?earlier in the year, partial versions were tested?and plans to more stores deployed with the new layout soon, Wolfram said.

Metro on Tuesday also announced its full support for RFID Gen2, along with Wal-Mart. Metro has been pushing for an extensive rollout of a case-level RFID program at its stores, with the goal of being able to read 200 cases simultaneously within one pallet. The chain today has 22 stores participating in this case-level program.