The biggest Chinese e-commerce retailer, Yihaodian, have announced their plans to launch 1,000 virtual supermarkets, with the first two opening in Guangzhou and Shenzhen. These supermarkets do not actually stock any products and to the naked eye the shelves remain empty. Using augmented reality technology, shoppers will be able to use their smartphone to see pictures of available groceries (of which there will be 1,000). Yihaodian trialled the idea last year on the Shanghai underground by allowing commuters to take photos of items displayed on billboards – the selected groceries were then delivered to their home.
The virtual supermarket concept is supposed to combine the benefits of both online shopping and the traditional approach of walking around a supermarket. This new technology allows shoppers to avoid the queues and the hassle of getting the shopping back home. It is not only the Chinese that are embracing the surge towards virtual shopping, even UK supermarket chain Tesco have recognised the increasing influence of smartphones in society- not to mention the commercial opportunities to be gained.
Over the summer Tesco installed the UK’s first virtual supermarket in Gatwick Airport, offering holidaymakers the ability to stock up their fridge to be full upon their return. The set-up involved 10 screens displaying a variety of Tesco’s bestselling products. The customer scans the chosen items with their smartphone and simply picks a convenient delivery time. Tesco have also announced further expansions into the virtual marketplace through their ‘StoreTrek’ project. Speaking with Marketing magazine, Nick Lansley (Tesco Head of Research and Development) spoke of how attempts at launching a virtual store had previously been “stymied by lack of computing power in a web browser and slow broadband speeds”. However, greater bandwidth, the rapid take-up of HTML5 and new technology, including 3D TVs, mean the retailer’s aim of ‘flying through a virtual Tesco store and grabbing 3D products is getting closer. The supermarket chain eventually intend to launch a virtual store accessible from the comfort of your living room. By using an Xbox Kinect they have allowed users to move around a store and select items by waving their hands at the screen.