Mobile is just the beginning

The blending of retail experiences

I’ve been fascinated lately by the impact always-on-and-in-your-pocket connectivity is having on shopping. Mobile shopping is transforming itself from a (presumed) on-the-go activity to one that can occur almost anywhere.

A recent Comscore study of smartphone owners revealed 56% had made mobile purchases at home. Another 42% had purchased items on their devices while out, (at a variety of places including schools, and restaurants, or at work) while 36% had purchased items on their mobile while inside a physical store.

UK shopping brand Tesco is now partnering with Samsung to take this a step further by launching a virtual pop-up grocery store in a Korean subway station. (You may also recall last year’s smaller, subway platform prototype).

Shoppers wander the physical aisles and add products to their virtual basket by scanning a QR code. Products are then delivered to their home.

The value for supermarkets is pretty obvious. No retail staff to pay, and an opportunity to store, pick and pack in the most cost-effective way possible. For users, the value is only evident if basic hygiene factors are accounted for.

  • Scanning a product should ideally indicate whether it is actually in stock at the warehouse (a feature that still eludes many online grocery shops).
  • You should be able to leave a comment for the packer (assuming the packer is human), for example regarding the ideal weight, or sell by date of perishable goods.
  • Using the app, you should be able to browse all information that would normally be included on the package. This would include product (marketing) descriptions, ingredients and nutritional information.
  • Oh and of course, you need to be in a city where there is network access on the subway. (Smart retailers will likely provide back-up wi-fi…just in case).

If they’re smart, Tesco would also link this service to the pre-existing ability to scan at home, and review past orders to pre-populate a cart. This would transform it from a single “do it now or miss it” activity, to a cumulative “do it whenever you think of it” thing.

Of course, an obvious missing aspect is still anything sensory. No more squeezing, smelling and inspecting fruit. Impulse buying may also be reduced as photographs yellow under fluorescent lighting, or simply because you can’t manipulate and otherwise play with the real thing.

Then again, people may bulk-buy, or pick up stuff they normally wouldn’t (it’s far easier to ignore that 1000 calorie tub of Häagen-Dazs if you can’t physically see it in your basket). Putting the store in the Subway may also capitalize on the well-known effects of grocery shopping while hungry!

So on the whole…not that different than online grocery shopping but with the ability to browse and wander (alone or with friends) which is admittedly very different (on a human scale) than punching a product name into a search field.

2 Responses to “The blending of retail experiences”

  1. Brad Frost

    I’ve been reading Race Against the Machine ( and it discusses a lot of the economic impacts these types of things have on society. Basically, anything that can be automated will be and we ultimately have to come to terms with the fact that not everyone, especially low-skilled workers, is going to be working in the future.

    Seeing stuff like this really puts into focus what we are comfortable with as humans. I’m reminded of when Facebook first introduced News Feed, and everyone cried foul over privacy intrusion, but now it’s absolutely the centerpiece of the product. If the same thing happens in physical spaces (we already have self-checkout lanes at the store), we’ll see this level of automation and faceless interaction as the norm. I’m curious to see how it will affect our ability to interact with each other (i.e. will the art of small talk be lost?).

    Things are going to get really interesting as the digital world continues bleeding over into the real world.

  2. clive boulton

    FT reports show the Amazon effect on retail space already well underway in the UK. BestBuy (PhoneWarehouse) is exchanging its out of town big box stores for smaller high street boutiques. Tesco is shrinking big box and pout of town retail spaces. Emerging differently in the USA, specialty brands in tiny spaces clustered in new low cost free-way malls. My sense spaces keep shrinking till competition forces the next step. Mobile for additional virtual spaces.


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