Smartphones a ‘rail deal’ in food shopping

July 26, 2011

Tesco turns commuters into shoppers with QR-coded virtual food displays in subway stations and home delivery. Will Americans go for this concept?

If a subway commute in South Korea takes longer than expected, a food delivery from Tesco’s Home Plus retailer might beat a commuter-shopper home. That’s because the UK-headquartered Tesco is using QR-code technology to ‘bring the store virtually’ to rail riders in this dense market, whom its research showed work long hours and dread the task of grocery shopping.

The progressive retailer has placed attractive images of food displays – as they’d appear on store shelves – on glass subway walls. Commuters can save a trip to the store by scanning the QR codes of items they want with their smartphones to trigger a delivery to their front door. Smartphones are plentiful in South Korea – more than 10 million are in use among a population of less than 50 million, according to The Telegraph (UK).      

During a recent three-month campaign, 10,287 consumers visited the online Home Plus mall using smartphones. The number of new registered members rose 76%, and online sales rose 130%, making Home Plus the top online seller in this nation, The Telegraph reported.

Could this concept work in the U.S. and enable retailers to capture share and deliver convenience while easing their burden of real estate commitments? The Lempert Report sees the sharp upturn in domestic Apple and Android use as a sign of reachable markets in parts of the United States. It’s not for everybody, especially with so many savings strategies in use and our desire to scrutinize fresh foods to evaluate how they’ll satisfy. Yet buyers of detergents, soft drinks, pet foods, paper goods and other bulky items could be free of lugging (as they are with traditional online purchases).  

The Lempert Report sees two elements as key to the potential success in the U.S.: Offers must appeal enough to snatch trips from competitors, and execution must be prompt and pristine. Also, cellular service needs to extend reliably into rails and other transportation centers (think airport terminals where people come home from trips and need fresh replenishments), consumers might find this time saving and compelling.   

Quick Trips are today’s priority – and it’s hard to think of anything quicker than not having to go to the store at all. Will supermarkets be first to the opportunity here, or will they let drug stores and supercenters use it as competitive advantage against them?