Tomorrow’s technology for today’s customers - by Martin Wild, Chief Digital Officer, MediaMarktSaturn Retail Group

The MediaMarktSaturn Retail Group is turning fixed-location shopping into a fascinating voyage of digital discovery with the aid of robots, virtual reality, Smart Shelves and in-store navigation. 

Digitalization is changing everything: the way we communicate, the way we work, and also the way we do our shopping. Previously, customers simply went into a store and bought what they wanted there and then. These days, the majority of consumers find it natural to do their shopping on various channels. As a result, the role of bricks-and-mortar retail is changing fundamentally. According to a 2015 study on the future of e-commerce by GfK (Gesellschaft für Konsumforschung/Society for Consumer Research), fixed-location retail now needs above all to serve customers’ emotional needs. After all, those who prefer visiting a bricks-and-mortar store to the convenience of Internet shopping clearly also have certain expectations: they want to touch products and try them out for themselves. Similarly, a study entitled Store 4.0 by business consultants PricewaterhouseCoopers concluded that fixed-location retail should be “a place of inspiration, entertainment and experience.”

So is fixed-location retail set to become an attraction-driven circus arena? Not quite. But it is very likely to become a showroom offering customers personal advice and increasingly also new worlds of discovery. And this is where innovative technologies at the point of sale (PoS) come in – by way of service for customers and as a direct link between e-commerce and fixed-location retail. The MediaMarktSaturn Retail Group is already working with several digital concepts such as robotics, virtual reality, Smart Shelves and in-store navigation which add extra dimensions to the physical sales area and enable customers to experience the PoS in new ways.


PAUL the Robot: The digital shop assistant

An example of this is PAUL the Robot. Developed in conjunction with the IPA Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Automation in Erlangen, this digital shop assistant has been on part-time duty at Saturn in Ingolstadt since late summer 2016. In addition to welcoming customers, his duties include providing them with specific assistance. PAUL’s starting point is customers’ wishes, the most common question being “Have you got such-and such in stock?”, “Where is it?” and “How much does it cost?” PAUL helps answer all these questions. Ask him and he’ll give you details about products and take you to them personally. If you’ve still got more questions once PAUL has finished advising you, he’ll summon a real-life shop assistant.


Electronic shelf labels which talk to smartphones

Assistance while shopping is provided not just by PAUL, but also by electronic shelf labels (ESLs), which offer far more than just price information. Using near-field communication (NFC), customers’ smartphones contact these electronic price tags directly – and additional information (e.g. product comparisons) is then displayed on their smartphones. This is one way in which ESLs help to integrate online and offline shopping more closely and make it even easier for customers to find the information they need to make an informed choice.


Planning your kitchen with virtual reality

One way of integrating cutting-edge technologies into the ordering process is illustrated by virtual reality kitchen planning. Especially when buying large electrical appliances, customers have many questions that can be answered more easily with virtual assistance: What colour and style will suit my home best? How will the overall appearance change when the electrical appliances are replaced? These questions can now be answered at the virtual reality showrooms in Berlin and Ingolstadt, where kitchen planning has entered a whole new dimension. Using a VR headset, customers can ‘walk’ through various kitchen scenarios and in a separate ‘appliance room’ choose from a wide range. Moreover, two large screens are used to show other customers what’s going on. This presentation was developed by the MediaMarktSaturn Retail Group together with Munich-based tech company Innoactive and kitchen experts Kiveda.


‘You have reached your destination’: Satnav through the store

Navigation by smartphone is great for driving and city breaks – and it could well be useful in the retail sector, too. With sales areas several thousand square metres in size, it’s sometimes hard to find your bearings. At the Saturn store in Ingolstadt, customers can use a digital Store Guide to find their way around and also track down specific items. It’s easy: just download the Store Guide app, use the search function to enter a department or a certain product, and a store plan appears on your smartphone showing both your current position and the item’s location.

The MediaMarktSaturn Retail Group is testing two different technical approaches for the Store Guide: the Earth’s magnetic field, and beacon technology, an evolution of Bluetooth wireless technology. Both can interact with newer smartphones and tablets and help identify a person’s location. Moreover, the position of the desired product is shown with accuracy down to a metre by means of electronic shelf labels. In a future phase, the app will also work with augmented reality, with customers being guided by digital information juxtaposed on real-time images of the store.


‘Look what I can show you’: Smart Shelves

Customer reviews along with photo galleries and videos: digital, product-related consumer tips will soon no longer be restricted to e-commerce. This ingenious form of added value is being introduced by another innovation currently being trialled by the MediaMarktSaturn Retail Group. Smart Shelves automatically show customers content relevant to selected products. For example, if a customer picks up a camera on the shelf to examine it, this action is recognized by the Smart Shelf, which then displays additional information on a monitor such as help on choosing a camera, images and even short films.


The early bird catches the worm

As different as the various new technologies are, they are united by a common approach: the MediaMarktSaturn Retail Group is integrating new digital technologies into its fixed-location stores in order to turn the customer journey at the PoS into a voyage of discovery. Those who want to develop tomorrow’s retail must get to grips with the necessary technologies and equipment today. And those who involve their customers in pilot projects early on will be able to use this initial practical experience to enhance future developments – and place their own fixed-location retail on an ideal footing in the digital future. 

Martin Wild, Chief Digital Officer MediaMarktSaturn Retail Group


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Christian Bölling

Saturn Virtual Reality Küchenplanung

Innovation in retail

The MediaMarktSaturn Retail Group is turning fixed-location shopping into a fascinating voyage of digital discovery with the aid of robots, virtual reality, Smart Shelves and in-store...