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Brief Published: 12 Dec 2012

Yihaodian’s Virtual Supermarkets, China


China’s fastest-growing grocery e-tailer Yihaodian has announced plans to open 1,000 virtual supermarkets at locations across China.

The Unlimited Yihaodian stores will be blank, city-centre spaces that rely on Augmented Reality (AR) technology and a smartphone app to come to life. Product isn’t visible to the naked eye – instead, consumers will be able to view the ‘aisles’ containing food items, information and prices via the Yihaodian app. The app will enable them to browse and buy, with the items then delivered directly to their homes.

“The new shopping style is more like an interactive game. We expect to attract consumers who like to try something new and who don’t like to shop sitting in front of a computer,” said a Yihaodian spokesperson.

Located in busy areas such as business districts, campuses and urban parks, each 1,200-square-metre store will stock around 1,000 items virtually.

The Unlimited Yihaodian concept was pre-empted by a string of digital shopping walls that were run by Yihaodian in subway stations in Beijing and Shanghai in 2011.

It is a format that’s also been trialled by British food retailer Tesco supermarkets on the Korean Underground and at London’s Gatwick airport, and US online supermarket Peapod in Chicago.

While these smaller pop-up iterations consisted of a flat screen with QR codes to scan and buy product – all conceived to provide the ultimate in convenience retailing – the rollout of Yihaodian’s immersive virtual megastores presents an altogether different prospect, more akin to gaming than shopping.

Whether the sci-fi-esque concept and the necessity for consumers to pitch up to a specific location will prove just too counterintuitive to a generation of shoppers now accustomed to the ‘anywhere’ aspect of online retail, will be revealed in due course.

For more on the future of bricks-and-mortar retailing, including how stores are morphing into test venues and product playgrounds, see Future Stores.

For more on how retailers can benefit by adding an element of play into their strategic thinking see the Industry Trend report, Power of Play.

For additional insights into the world of AR-fuelled retail see Augmented Reality Retail and Holition: The Interview.