Mobile technology – what and where is a store and a shopper now?

Topics: Channel / Retail, Featured, FMCG, Home, Point of Purchase, Shopper, Shopper marketing

What are virtual shopping walls likely to do to shopper behaviour? Peter Huskins looks at how developing technologies provide some communications opportunities, not just channel conflict. For Retail World Magazine.

Back in September last year we discussed here in Retail World the new path to purchase and the role of prestore stimulus vs active online/mobile search (the Zero Moment of Truth), its impacts on instore behaviour (traditionally the First Moment of Truth), and how conversion can now be happening prestore.

The need to explore the impacts and opportunities of this was confirmed with last night’s news story on the Woolworths virtual shopping wall at Sydney’s Town Hall station. This was preceded the day before by a front page story in the Sydney Morning Herald (18 Feb) on Sportsgirl’s use of QR codes in virtual shopping wall ‘billboards’.

Virtual shopping walls really started with Tesco’s Homeplus subway-located virtual shopping wall in Korea in December 2010 , where shoppers standing in the subway station could scan products on the virtual shelf and the products were delivered to them by the time they got home.  The technology is a simple QR code, a scanner for which is downloadable as an IPhone app.


During 2011 a number of companies have started to explore virtual shopping walls, with US-based department store Sears focussing on toys for Christmas via virtual shopping walls in airports, cinemas and bus shelters ,  and in September 2011 Procter & Gamble commenced activating a P&G brands-only set of virtual shopping walls in the Czech Republic with fulfillment provided by the Czech Republic’s largest online retailer, thereby bypassing that country’s traditional bricks and mortar retailers.

Virtual shopping walls will by their nature likely be temporary executions, a form of pop-up retail. Pop-up retail itself has been around for more than 10 years. And whilst likely to nip at the edges of top-up and dinner tonight shopping trips in grocery, the limited range provided on a virtual wall and the impulse/time bound nature of the virtual shopping location means they’re not suitable for longer stock-up shops.


So from a grocery store point of view we wouldn’t expect virtual shopping walls and pop up retail to cannibalise ‘mainstream’ sales, more to kind of nibble sales around the edges a bit. And depending whose statistic you use, online grocery shopping is still at fewer than 10% … it remains to be seen how well CatchoftheDay/Scoopon’s GroceryRun online grocery store does.


However, whilst still in their infancy, virtual shopping walls mean the advent of shopping anywhere (not just instore or online). Not only can shoppers receive and look up shopping related products and offers anywhere they are, they can order them anywhere they are. This throws up both commercial and marketing opportunities.


So the ‘where do I get it from’ options, from a shopper’s point of view, are becoming:

  • Buy it in a store
  • Buy it online and have it delivered to me
  • Order it online and pick it up instore
  • Order it instore and have it delivered to me
  • Buy it from a temporary store (pop up retail, temporary)
  • Buy it from somewhere that’s not a store or online (ie virtual shopping wall, temporary) and have it delivered to me.




What the advent of virtual shopping walls and pop-up retail does is to get shoppers comfortable with the notion they can shop from anywhere. Which in theory means they’re open to offers and communications anywhere. And this is where technology developments mean you have communications opportunities outside of traditional media such as television and catalogues.





Anyone remember the 2002 movie Minority Report, where Tom Cruise winds up wearing a Japanese man’s eyes (long story), and as he walks around retail centres various anonymous voices address ‘Mr Yamamoto’ (or whatever his name was) with various tailored offers?


This is location based marketing, or geo targeting. We’re not doing it with eye retinas (yet), it’s happening with mobile devices where location based media deliver multimedia and content directly to the device. A number of digital and online companies in Australia have been offering these services for a year or two.


This can be used to drive traffic to your store as the field of the geo-target is not limited to within store, it can be up to 1 km or more. It’s great for local and community based stores with regular clients who go to their ‘local shops’ frequently and thus are likely to be ‘in range’ eg if a shopper is on a shopping strip or shopping centre, and your store is located on that strip/in that centre, they can receive offers from you.


Shoppers (well, people in general) are already actively, albeit unknowingly, helping you with this – telling you where they are – by ‘checking in’ where they are on Facebook, Foursquare, Yelp etc. (Feels like an opportunity for a location based media application that links the checkin sites with offers, if that hasn’t been developed already).





As we’ve discussed in other articles, grocery shoppers are crying out for information, education and entertainment (not just simplicity via range and space). A number of technologies and tools are available that can provide shoppers more information at shelf via their mobile device, without the need for paper-based pamphlets.


QR Codes are basically a re-routing application where the shopper scans the QR code with their smartphone and are taken to a specific website or landing page where the additional content is held. They can be used for product and process information, recipes etc. In consumer electronics for instance, the JBHiFi equivalent store in the USA, Best Buy, uses QR codes for product and technical specifications at shelf. But they can also be used to educate shoppers on health regimes, access promotions etc.


Augmented Reality is sort of the next step on from QR codes, where shoppers with smartphones and tablets scan an icon on a pack or shelf, such as Blippar, and additional ‘real-life’ content appears on their phone screen. Heinz have trialled this in the US with recipe books that ‘appear’ from their tomato sauce bottles when scanned. Augmented reality is also being used for promotions as the content is dynamic, in video format. Kit Kat Chunky have run augmented reality interactive promotions in other markets. Tablets like Ipads mean larger screen applications such as apparel where you can scan an item of clothing and it virtually ‘tries it on’ for you by placing the item over a head-to-toe image of you.


Words don’t describe it very well; you need to see it in action. Check out as a starting point, or there are quite a few videos on YouTube.


With both QR Codes and Augmented Reality, as with any at-shelf promotion or information, the basic rules of communication apply. It needs to be made clear to the shopper that the additional information, via whatever technology, is available … just putting it on the pack of a specific brand may not make it visible enough. This will still require at-shelf signage to promote the information.






So what’s all this got to do with me, you say, because you run an IGA and the majority of your shoppers are people over 55 aside from the schoolkids who come in for drinks in the mornings and afternoons? Well, location based media is perfect for you, for a start.


Smartphones and tablets aren’t just for the young. Whilst the generational shift means that those under 25 don’t operate ‘offline’ (if you’re not digital, you don’t exist for under 25s) the penetration of smartphone users will be at 60% in Australia within 12 months (ie nearly 2/3 of all mobile phone owners will have a smartphone within 12 months) and the current penetration of tablets is around 15% (1 in 6) and rising quickly.


Many sectors are getting in on the act. A personal example was in Hobart’s MONA museum over New Year, where all exhibits have codes and you are given a smartphone with scanner on entry (a visual version of the AV ‘listening sticks’) to use to scan exhibits for artist and artwork details. My 75+ year old parents took to it like ducks to water.


The retail revolution is not just to ‘online’ retailing, it’s to mobile … anytime, anywhere. And this gives you more opportunities to communicate with your shoppers, not fewer.