South Korea is the second-hardest working country in the world1. All those hours at the office don’t leave much time for food shopping. So when England-based grocery store chain Tesco (called Homeplus locally) wanted to expand their market share in the Korean capital they looked to a place that the residents of Seoul already had idle time to pick out their foodstuffs—on the platform of subway stations while waiting for trains.
The problem is that subway platforms have no room for full-fledged supermarkets (or even quarter-fledged supermarkets). So Homeplus went virtual. They put up backlit posters with grocery items displayed on shelves as they would be in a real store.
It works like this: Potential customers download the free Homeplus app onto their smartphone. Then they open an account with their home address and method of payment.
While waiting for their trains, would-be shoppers check out what’s for sale on the subway wall posters. Every item depicted on those virtual shelves has a QR code next to it. If a customer sees an item they want they simply snap a photo of the QR code.
That’s it! Even if said customer is on their way home, chances are that their order will arrive before they get there!
What’s striking to Spot Cool Stuff is how low-tech this idea is in some ways. Partly for that reason, and partly because the economics of it make so much sense, we expect to see this type of virtual shopping experience appear in other cities over the next few years. (Wal-Mart and Amazon.com are among those already exploring ways to do this in the United States.) In fact, there’s lots of room to go beyond this idea. Instead of backlit posters, for instance, stores could display available items on large LCD screens, allowing stores to remotely adjust prices and instantly remove items that are out of stock.
In the meantime, check out the Seoul subway’s virtual grocery stores next time you are in Korea. Homeplus is expected to have them incorporated into most of the city’s major subway stations by the end of 2011.
1 The hardest working country is Japan, where the average adults works 18 minutes more per day than their South Korean counterpart.