Retail giant Tesco has opened what it calls "the UK’s first interactive virtual grocery store" in Gatwick airport.
The store contains four "interactive fridges", display screens that allow visitors to search through grocery items. Each item carries a barcode than can be scanned using Tesco’s mobile app. Customers then use the app to place their order and book a time for the food to be delivered on their return.
Tesco opened its first virtual store in South Korea last year. Images of grocery items with barcodes to scan were mounted on the walls of a subway station in Seoul. Tesco says 55,000 customers used the stores, and it prompted 1.1 million app downloads.
"Our business in Korea is teaching us a lot about how customers and technology are transforming shopping," said Tesco’s Internet retail director Ken Towle. "It gives us a unique window into the future and the chance to try out exciting new concepts.
"The virtual store blends clicks and bricks, bringing together our love of browsing with the convenience of online shopping," he said.
Tesco is not the first to use the concept in the UK, however. Last year, online supermarket retailer Ocado built a temporary ‘shopping wall’ in London, and another this year in Birmingham. The walls carried pictures of items that passers-by could order using Ocado’s mobile app.
Last November, Tesco announced that it was trialling augmented reality technology to allow online shoppers to view 3D images of selected products.
The use of innovative technologies such as these in retail is often as much about marketing and PR as it is about creating new sales channels. Another metric of success that Tesco gave for its South Korean virtual store was that it "generated 25 million online posts around the globe".