At a press conference earlier today, China’s biggest food e-commerce site, Yihaodian, announced plans to form 1,000 virtual supermarkets at locations across the country. These stores, to be called “Unlimited Yihaodian” will actually just be blank city spaces where Augmented Reality (AR) technology and your smartphone’s camera bring the store to life. So, yes, no actual physical products. The items that are bought will then be delivered – just like with Yihaodian’s regular website.
[UPDATE: An earlier version of this article mistakenly said that these stores used QR codes. I've also added in photos of the AR environment, thanks to Ogilvy China].
Yihaodian has some experience with experimental virtual stores having set up some different ones last year. Those involved QR codes on posters in city subway stations. But this time, AR means it’ll be even more virtual.
Also, its new wave of stores will be larger than those promotional small-scale efforts made up of posters – the new virtual supermarkets will be about 1,200-square meters in size. That’s about the size of 10 average urban Chinese apartments, making them larger than most convenience stores, but a lot smaller than most major supermarket/hypermarkets in large cities in China. They’ll (virtually) stock about 1,000 items.
It’s an interesting concept, fusing the best of online shopping (the speed, the lack of carrying stuff or queueing, the to-your-door deliveries) with the best of the relatively normal act of walking around a store. It therefore cuts out the tedium of making hundreds of clicks on a website or within an app to buy common foods and household items. Think of it as e-commerce but where the ‘e’ also means exercise.
UK retailer Tesco in South Korea has seen success with its QR supermarkets, which boosted online sales by 130 percent.
The American retailer Walmart (NYSE:WMT) owns a 51.3 percent stake in Yihaodian, but it won’t be involved in these QR-oriented stores – or any other offline ventures by Yihaodian. That’s after China’s Ministry of Commerce made it abundantly clear that anti-monopoly laws mean that Yihaodian and Walmart will have to watch their step. It’s thought that Yihaodian might also open some non-virtual and totally conventional convenience stores in some business districts in major cities – but that wasn’t announced at today’s event.
[Source: QQ Tech - article in Chinese]