| Theresa Muench |
BERLIN (dpa) – In the beginning, customers needed written instructions to shop in a supermarket. “They felt like thieves when they took products off the shelves,” explains shopping expert Stephan Becker-Sonnenschein.
That was 65 years ago. Shoppers at Germany’s first self-service grocery, in Hamburg, were given a written handbill saying: remove the sugar, jam and milk from the shelf yourself and proceed to the checkout.
That change in our shopping lifestyle was the beginning of the gradual death of humble little owner-operated grocery stores right around the globe. Today, the food trade is experiencing another challenge but it may not be quite as shocking as in 1949.
“Thanks to digital technology we are seeing a change in the quality of service and comfort,” says Becker-Sonnenschein from Germany’s Food Trade Association.
Hardly any experts think the recent boom in online shopping for clothing and books will spread to the grocery business but they do see the shopping experience changing. The reason: digital technology has altered our habits.
Gerrit Kahl from the German Research Centre for Artificial Intelligence is working on a project that one day may revolutionise supermarket shopping. Kahl has developed an intelligent shopping cart that can recognise the products inside it and give advice.
The trolley can warn a shopper that the packet of muesli they have just taken off the shelf contains allergenes.
At the moment the cart is still in the development stage. But supermarkets are already trying to adapt to future trends.
Franz-Martin Rausch from the Association of German Food Traders points to the introduction of self-service check-outs, in-store cooking courses and sushi bars beside fish counters as a few of the innovations introduced in Germany in recent years.
Joachim Zentes is a researcher with the Institute for Trade at the University of Saarland. He believes online food shopping will account for six per cent of trade in Germany by 2025. That’s a very small figure.
Zentes thinks supermarkets that cater towards niche segments such as vegan food have a solid commercial future. “Shoppers still want to have a direct link to the food they are buying,” says Zentes.
Nevertheless, online food shopping will have a future.
Max Thinius runs a German grocery portal AllYouNeed. He says the Internet is unbeatable when it comes to the huge variety of products a consumer can choose from. With just one click a shopper can limit the selection to gluten-free or lactose-free foods.
“We’re not going to see the death of supermarkets,” says Thinius. But he has noticed that even elderly shoppers are taking an interest in online shopping. Bricks-and-mortar grocery stores will need to figure out how to match the advantages of digital business.