The Grocery Store of the Future
By Susanna Hamner

(Business 2.0) – Forget waiting in long lines, aimlessly wandering the aisles, even bringing your wallet. Grocery stores are getting an upgrade that will make those old-fashioned hassles obsolete. Thanks to U.S. chain Food Lion and Germany's Metro Group, the world's third-largest retailer, sci-fi gadgetry has arrived at the humble supermarket. Experimental outlets, including Food Lion's five Bloom markets in North Carolina and Metro's Future Store in Rheinberg, Germany, are leading the charge, but according to IHL Consulting Group, the North American supermarket industry will invest $4.5 billion in technology overall this year, up 7 percent from 2004. "Until a year ago, grocery stores were very tech-phobic," says Gartner analyst Jeff Roster. "All of that is changing." Here are the biggest innovations coming soon to a store near you. -- SUSANNA HAMNER

Self-Service Kiosks

IBM and NCR touchscreens scattered throughout the store help customers locate products and offer tips on creating menus, preparing meat, and pairing wine with food. WHERE: Bloom, Metro Future Store

Smart Shelves

Equipped with Intermec radio-frequency readers that track RFID-tagged products, store shelves alert employees when items need restocking or wind up on the wrong aisle. WHERE: Metro Future Store

Handheld Scanners

Upon entering the store, customers grab bar-code scanners made by Symbol Technologies to keep running tabs of their selections as they shop. When they are ready to check out, shoppers can simply scan the "end of trip" bar code on the cart and download the order to a self-checkout register. WHERE: Albertsons in Dallas and Fort Worth, Bloom, Delhaize Group (Food Lion's parent company) stores in Europe

Real-Time Advertising

Dozens of 19-inch Wincor Nixdorf plasma screens hanging above shelves display ads geared to the time of day and direct shoppers to products that are on sale. WHERE: Metro Future Store

Convenience Corner

Shoppers who just need a quart of milk or a dozen eggs can pop into a store-within-a-store near the front door; to speed things along, it even has its own self-checkout lane. WHERE: Bloom

Fingerprint Payment

Scanners from Pay by Touch let customers buy groceries simply by tapping their fingers. To enroll, a user takes a few minutes to enter a fingerprint and a checking account number, which are stored at an IBM data center. The system assigns 40 unique data points to each fingerprint and encrypts the information as a 300-digit number to prevent identity theft. WHERE: Albertsons in Portland, Ore., Pick'n Save in Milwaukee, Piggly Wiggly