China’s biggest food e-commerce site, Yihaodian, has announced plans to build 1,000 ‘virtual supermarkets’ at locations around the country.
Shoppers at these dystopian future virtualmarkets, where the smell and feel of fresh produce is but a gleam in the eye of the old migrant worker sweeping the floors, will be faced with wall upon wall of product images, each with an individual QR code (those square bar-codes that no-one ever uses) which shoppers scan to add an item to their virtual basket which is later delivered to their home. Like internet shopping but much, much less convenient.
Yihaodian has previously partnered with location-based services company Jiepang to provide virtual, QR-shopping in subway stations in Shanghai, Beijing, and Guangzhou.
Virtual shopping in subway stations is a mostly not-stupid idea: posters require far less real estate than shops, there is a ready supply of potential customers already there, regular exposure to the posters will increase the chance that commuters will try them out even if just for novelty purposes.
However, the planned virtual supermarkets will clock in at 1,200 square-metres, and presumably won’t all be located in subway stations. Tech in Asia calls this an “interesting concept, fusing the best of online shopping” with “the best of the relatively normal act of walking around a store”, except that’s not true.
Shopping in a physical store is superior to online shopping because you see the actual product you’re buying, not a Photoshop-enhanced facsimile, real products have texture and smell, size is easier to eyeball than to guess (as anyone who has inadvertently bought 5kg of ginger can attest), and, most importantly of all, you get to take the products home straight away.
This is the equivalent of going to an internet cafe to do your online shopping, if you have a computer at home why would you bother?