The barrier between consumer and product is growing ever smaller, as retail stores both physical and online extend their sales into realms beyond their original spheres of influence. UK grocer Tesco’s interactive virtual grocery stores in London’s Gatwick airport is only the latest example.
The Gatwick stores follow on the heels of last year’s pilot program in South Korea that sold items via billboards displaying photos of products in subway stations and bus stops. Using smartphones to scan QR codes next to the products' images on the wall, shoppers of Tesco division Home Plus would have their groceries selected, bought and delivered to their homes.
At Gatwick, though, instead of static photos of products on the wall or display stands, departing passengers will use an Android or iOS app to scan products displayed on one of four interactive “fridges” within the virtual store.
Putting the virtual store into the Gatwick airport takes advantage of the travel habits of Britons as they depart the UK on their annual holiday (or “vacation”) and may want to have groceries delivered to their homes when they get back, saving them the inevitable re-stocking trip at the supermarket when they return.
Tesco’s experiment puts the virtual stores where potential customers will be and may have time on their hands for some fast shopping: public waiting areas. The pilot has already paid off in South Korea: Tesco’s subsidiary there reported a 130% rise in online grocery sales.
Billboards and screen displays of products fall into a fast-rising category of sales known as etailing, which is a blend of what works best in the online and brick-and-mortar worlds. The concept of a 24/7 store window happens to be the most popular because it’s the easiest to implement: display a product with some kind of barcode and you immediately can get customers buying, as eBay and designer Jonathan Adler are trying in New York and Proctor & Gamble is doing with virtual drugstores in the Czech Republic.
It’s not just public screens. Ebay’s “Watch with eBay” app lets users specify the TV channel they are watching and displays items currently on sale that relate to the show. Think sports memorabilia or fan gear.
Meanwhile, e-commerce sites are extending their reach into the physical world. Amazon is now formally launching its Amazon Lockers program that will have the mega-retailer ship customers' items to secure lockers located in convenience stores and pharmacies for later pickup. The program was first trialed in Seattle last year, and it’s been enough of a success to deploy across the nation. The lockers offer customers more security in product delivery, particularly in urban areas where theft from doorsteps can be a problem.
Now that Amazon is giving in to collecting sales taxes even in U.S. states where it doesn’t already have a physical presence, it’s also reportedly establishing regional distribution centers that could enable hyperlocal, same-day delivery. Or at least next-day delivery for many items.
Whether or note they make it to the U.S. market, all of these developments play into etailing’s key trend: reducing the friction between seeing an item and buying it.