Metro's Koch Pushes Online Deals to Boost Retailer's Momentum

  • Orderbird, Hitmeister on the menu for German food retailer
  • CEO investing in Web businesses a year ahead of split

Metro AG Chief Executive Officer Olaf Koch, a year away from cleaving the German retailer in two, is ramping up online investments that could help distance the company from its roots as a stodgy store operator.

Along with announcing quarterly sales that met estimates, Metro said Wednesday it’s bought a stake in Berlin-based Orderbird, which makes an iPad app for restaurant wait staff, plunking down 16.5 million euros ($18.8 million) along with another investor. Metro has also bought the website Hitmeister, which sells products including electronics, household goods and outdoor furniture.

Koch, 45, has been acquiring and investing in e-commerce sites, iPhone apps and other digital businesses to inject some zip in a company that essentially isn’t growing. After years of under-investment, Metro is playing catch-up in a market transformed by the advances of online retailing. Koch’s plan to split Metro’s food and electronics chains into two companies should also spark more deal-making, he’s said.

“We need to inspire customers,” Koch told journalists on a conference call. “Self-service stores are outdated.”

Startup Work

Dusseldorf-based Metro has taken stakes in startups whose websites and apps can help the restaurateurs and caterers who shop at its Cash & Carry markets. Its Media Markt and Saturn consumer-electronics stores are working with startups to offer services like repairing cracked iPhone screens or configuring Sonos wireless music systems.

By the middle of next year, Metro hopes to split the Cash & Carry and Real food chains from the Media-Saturn group. Koch said minority shareholder Erich Kellerhals, the founder of Media-Saturn who has agitated for change at the company and complicated Koch’s agenda, lacks influence over the deal.

“Many of the disruptive factors are eliminated today,” the CEO said. “The coming years are going to be unbelievably fun.”

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