QR Codes Power Virtual Grocery Stores in Asia: Will America’s Grocers Catch On?

subway2Imagine you’re in a queue of people waiting for a train or subway in New York, Washington, San Francisco or any of America’s largest cities with heavy mass transit traffic. You’ve had a horrible day at work; you’re tired and hungry. What’s more, dinner is dependent on a stop at the grocery store before heading home to unwind. Not a pleasant vision, but a very common one.

Perhaps American supermarkets are poised to help solve the problems of inconvenience and frustration by taking a cue from their Asian counterparts. In a move that combines brilliant marketing with outstanding customer service, grocers in two Asian countries are revolutionizing the shopping experience. Using Quick Response (QR) Codes®, consumers with smartphones can shop a virtual grocery store while waiting for the subway.

This is a QR Code: QRcode_barcode.comURL

It’s easily recognized by the squares at three corners of the symbol. These are called “position detection patterns.” The positioning squares are like crop marks on a photo, allowing the smartphone’s scanner to pick up the encoded message within those parameters.

The encoding is based on the contrast of dark elements on a light background. The information included in these intricate designs is vast.

Marsha Harmon, Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of Q.E.D. Systems explained it this way in an article entitled QR Codes: Everything You wanted to Know, “QR Code is capable of encoding more than 7,000 characters in a single symbol [compared with] a single barcode symbol [that] typically stores around 20 digits. A QR Code symbol encoding the same 20 digits would be one-tenth the size of the bar code.”

South Korean Supermarket Tests Interest for QR Grocery Stores in Subway

virtual-grocery-store-in-subwayUK-based Tesco’s Home plus is making it possible for people to shop while waiting for their train in a subway in Seoul, South Korea.  They have posted “wallpaper” replicas of grocery store shelves, featuring images of grocery items accompanied by QR codes.   After downloading the appropriate app to their smartphones, these subway shoppers simply scan the QR codes for the items they want, and the items appear in a “shopping cart” in their smartphones.  The app allows them to checkout, submit payment, indicate when they want delivery, and head home. The items are delivered to their doors within the next day.  Cheil Worldwide, South Korea’s largest advertising agency, is working with Tesco Home plus to promote the idea.

And the trend is catching on among other Asian nations. For example, subway lines in Shanghai and bus stations in Beijing have been equipped with billboards showing around 80 products with QR Codes. The company behind the Shanghai-based company is Yihaodian, in which Walmart has an investment.

Are American Grocers Ready?

A rapidly growing number of Americans now own and use smartphones, for everything from texting, taking photos and videos, installing applications for specific products and services, surfing the web, scanning bar codes or QR codes, and, of course, actually speaking to someone.  So would this growing segment of the population use their smartphones for virtual shopping?  And would American grocers give them the opportunity?

Some US stores may be moving in that direction, include Lakeland, FL-based Publix, which has recently introduced on-line shopping with curbside pickup as a test at two of their stores. Walmart, Amazon, Safeway and Peapod are also testing online order/delivery services in selected markets.

No current research, however, suggests that any of the major chains are ready for creating a total virtual shopping experience via QR Codes. That may change. A combination of the needs of today’s consumer, the marketing successes experienced by the initiatives in Asia, and the increasing availability of applicable technology may move American supermarket giants to test the waters of QR Code virtual grocery shopping.

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