Virtual Storefronts and Our Busy Lives

by Kate Enright


This past weekend saw the launch of Woolworth’s virtual shopping facility in Sydney’s Town Hall Station. Shoppers in the station will now simply have to point and tap to order groceries right to their homes without the hassle of shopping trollies, frustrated toddlers and queues at the supermarket checkout. The virtual storefront displays images of the items most commonly purchased in stores accompanied by a bar code. By just pointing and tapping shoppers can add the item to their virtual basket and move to the next shelf. Genius.


Woolworths are not the first supermarket chain to bring virtual shopping to their customers however. Tesco released their first virtual store in South Korea in June last year. The store also catered for busy commuters, this time in a crowded subway station and using QR codes. The store was so successful that since its launch Tesco have installed virtual stores in over 20 bus stops around the country, again catering for the thousands of busy S. Korean commuters with little time to shop.  These installations are not only convenient, but also eye-catching, immersive and engaging for consumers.

But why an entire virtual storefront? Why do we need these images and QR codes when we can shop online using mobile apps and sites anyway? Well, it’s the same basic psychology that is behind chocolate bars at the checkout or lip-gloss and hair clips lining the queues in stores. That is, out of sight out of mind. If we don’t think we need something, we won’t go looking for it, but if it is placed there in front of us, either it reminds us that we want it or it makes us feel we must have it. Another extremely important aspect is that we are, in essence, creatures of habit. Our brains need familiarity, comfortable metaphors, and visual stimuli to spur on action. This basic psychology means that the images provided at these virtual storefronts act as both incentives to purchase and also as a tool to make us feel comfortable with the idea of shopping online and encouraged to try it without a sense of unease or risk.

So where to next? Well, already the market has moved beyond purely groceries as this week US Glamour magazine are launching a beauty product installation in Manhattan’s Über trendy meatpacking district. Shoppers will be able to choose products from a mix of top beauty brands and have them delivered right to their doors. It is only a matter of time before this new phenomenon, coupled with other recent tech advances, stretches to the fashion world and even further.

Of course, the market is limited to smartphone users, but with over 1 Billion smartphones in use around the world, and rising, it seems as though the popularity of virtual stores will do anything but struggle. Also, as studies have shown, smartphone users will be typically shorter on time and not so short on money. This means that virtual shopping and the smartphone user are the perfect marriage of convenience.