China’s Yihaodian Plans 1,000 Virtual AR Supermarkets Where You’ll Shop With Your Smartphone’s Camera

Steven Millward
9:22 pm on Oct 15, 2012

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].

Browsing items in the AR supermarket. Click to enlarge.

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]

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  • Thinker

    This innovation. Kudos

  • Ari

    While the West is busy arguing about whether NFC or some other future technology will or will not kill the QR Code China, Japan, Korea and the rest of the Far East are making the shopping experience as easy as possible for the consumer using the QR Code.

    Can we stop arguing and start using the QR Code to make our lives easier?

  • Joel

    Thing is, how do you check the expiry date for the products?

    • Steven Millward

      @Joel As with the e-commerce site, surely they’ve never sell anyone out-of-date stuff!

  • Lee Harvey

    So let me get this straight.

    Buying online that saves you the hassles of carrying your shopping home and allow for not actually stocking “physical stock” is not practical enough for the modern consumer that is to busy to shop in a store or basically cant be bothered to trek half way across town are seriously thinking about walking around a “EMPTY” space in a city whilst looking through their smartphone to get fundamentally the same experience that can be generated online from a consumer experience is better?

    Although will be quite amusing to see potentially people randomly walking 12000 sq foot of nothing whilst looking in to their phones and purchasing products, i actually fail to see the actual benefit and fail to see how this could bolster a brand in the online space.

    Innovation is great but just because you can does not mean that you should.

    It would be great if instead of “having to shop” the process was automated via our daily lifestyles. Such as every time you take a product out of your freezer at home it was automatically added to a online shopping list and delivered in a preset time via the actual consumer and therefore minimizing the time of such purchases and allowing the individual to actually do more with their time than walk around physical or non “empty” physical stores.

    Just a thought

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