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The subway supermarket

It’s the kind of place where you kill time reading a book, or play games on your mobile while you wait for your train to arrive. But the subway has found a new position in Korea. It doubles up as a supermarket. Tesco just launched an interesting experiment where the walls are full of virtual merchandise. But they aren’t just pretty ads, they are projections of the actual supermarket aisle. And you can shop with your mobile, just like you would in the real supermarket. Download an app, pick out what you want to buy, pay and have the groceries delivered to your home at the time of your choosing. It’s an amazing combination of virtual, real world and mobile wallet integration. And for the stressed out Korean, it is a godsend – not having to brave the lines at the store and the traffic and parking hassles that go with it. The solution came from a simple brief – how could Tesco increase its sales without increasing the number of offline stores?

We are primed to thinking in specific silos. The shop is the place where you buy stuff. Online stores seek to create the ‘shop’ experience by providing shopping carts and trying to replicate the offline model. There was a specific reason for it – people first needed to understand the concept of an online store and so the familiar icons of the offline world became the trust creators – the landscape of the familiar. Carts, checkouts, virtual storefronts as icons and navigation markers, so that you could move within a known environment and be persuaded to try out the new. The promise was the same. Avoid parking hassles, spend as much time as you like, a wide selection of merchandise to preview before making the purchase and home delivery – all from the comfort of your couch.

I can see this being replicated in any environment where people are stuck for a certain length of time. Bus stations, train stations, airport walls, doctor’s clinics, gym treadmills… the possibilities are endless. For companies, the costs of building and maintaining stores just went through the floor. Why invest in a store when you can simply go to wherever people are? A significant part of every retail chain’s fixed cost are the rentals, the stocking, the salaries and the inventory – and the management of the logistics. Now it won’t matter. You can simply show the articles that you have in your inventory in a virtual aisle and encourage people to pick it up. What served as a reminder medium for a brand, just morphed into a real storefront. There are no parking challenges, no rentals, and mortgage negotiations. I think we will see a rapid change in the way we shop. Just like no one ever goes into a bank these days, we may never have to step into a store but simply have it move to wherever we are.

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