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Virtual Fridge, Real Benefits

Tesco, the UK’s biggest supermarket chain, launched a virtual supermarket at Gatwick airport’s North Terminal. The supermarket chain hopes that bored holiday makers waiting for their flights will order a delivery of groceries for when they return. With 30,000 people passing through Gatwick’s North Terminal every day, the scheme has some real potential for Tesco’s revenue.

The 10 large electronic “fridges” allow customers to search through 80 of Tesco’s most popular products before placing an order.

The chain wants to cash in on the rise in ownership of smartphones. Currently around 50% of the population have a smartphone, and this is predicted to rise to 90% by 2017. Customers are able to scan the items with their phone to create a virtual shopping list and place an order to be delivered to their door as soon as they return from their break.

Customers will need to download the Tesco app in order to scan product barcodes as well as registering with Tesco.com. Cynics claim this is merely a ploy for Tesco to increase app users. Currently, Tesco sees 20 million customers pass through its physical stores but has only 1.3 million app users.

At the moment, around one in seven online grocery orders involve the use of a smartphone, and Tesco controls around half of all online orders. The overall market is estimated to be worth £4.5bn. At the moment, Morrison’s is the only supermarket chain who does not offer grocery home delivery; however, this looks likely to change, with the website claiming “it’s something we’re looking into”.

The screens installed at Gatwick are on a two week trial, running from 6 August to 19 August, to see how popular they are in the UK market. However,  there are similar screens installed in South Korean railway and bus stations, allowing commuters to shop by pointing their mobile phones at billboards, had proved a huge success, resulting in a 130% increase in online sales. This used QR codes, which have a much greater awareness in South Korea, where many phones have them preinstalled. In the UK, recent research found that only 31% of UK consumers knew what QR codes were, and just 19% has scanned one on their mobiles.

John Lewis has also previously trailed a QR based virtual shopping window in a Waitrose branch in Brighton over the Christmas period in 2011. The retailer listed “30 things to buy for Christmas” and their associated QR codes which took them into their John Lewis mobile site to complete their purchase. Following a successful initial trial, this was also expanded into seven stores for their Christmas sales.

The jury is out on the new fridges, with supporters claiming it would be a huge boost for time-poor consumers, such as business travelers, who find it difficult to find time to do the weekly shop. The novelty of the shopping experience is also likely to see a boost in sales from this method, with people enjoying a slightly unusual form of shopping. However, critics claim that the last thing people want to think about when they are in holiday mode is coming back (and you can’t really argue with that)!

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