Chinese e-Tailer Building 1,000 Stores With Nothing In Them

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I've been trying to wrap my head around this one all morning and figure out just exactly what the benefit would be here.

According to Tech In Asia, "At a press conference earlier today, China’s biggest food e-commerce site, Yihaodian, announced plans to form 1,000 virtual supermarkets at locations across the country. These stores, to be called “Unlimited Yihaodian” will actually just be blank city spaces where Augmented Reality (AR) technology and your smartphone’s camera bring the store to life. So, yes, no actual physical products. The items that are bought will then be delivered – just like with Yihaodian’s regular website."

The company is essentially tapping into the wave of augmented reality apps -- a way to view the world through your smart phone while on the go and have information about what you're seeing overlay the image so you can navigate a city better, learn more about a restaurant before you walk in, and so on. AR is increasing in popularity as interesting applications surface, however....buying food?

I sort of get the benefit of a hybrid store. Online shopping helps reduce the carbon footprint of brick-and-mortar stores by having products shipped directly from manufacturer or distributor to the consumer, skipping its trip to the storefront. No one is driving to the store, and no big trucks are making deliveries. On the other hand, there are some products you'd rather buy in person such as clothing, sporting gear, and various other things that are better to test out in person before purchasing. Having a store that carries just products for you to see in person before ordering might be kind of cool.

But this store isn't like that at all.

It's a store where you would walk in, see virtual food items, order them, walk out, and then have them delivered to your home later.

Food? Isn't this one of the things you'd most definitely want to go to the store and pick out yourself to make sure you're selecting the most perfectly ripe apples, the freshest lettuce, and so on?

And if you're going to select items virtually, why not just do that on your computer at home instead of going into a store? Tech In Asia notes that it helps to eliminate all the clicks you'd make on a computer and increase the exercise you get by walking around a store. Um..... okaaaaay.

As a consumer, I just. don't. get it.

But whatever I think, Yihaodian is moving forward with opening 1,000 of these oddities to see how it works out.

Tech In Asia notes, "[T]he new virtual supermarkets will be about 1,200-square meters in size. That’s about the size of 10 average urban Chinese apartments, making them larger than most convenience stores, but a lot smaller than most major supermarket/hypermarkets in large cities in China. They’ll (virtually) stock about 1,000 items."

We'll see how it goes. Launching 1,000 of these stores must mean the company has a lot of confidence that the hybrid of online and in-person food shopping will appeal to consumers. And apparently some versions of this have been successful: "UK retailer Tesco in South Korea has seen success with its QR supermarkets, which boosted online sales by 130 percent."

What do you think? Would this be an intriguing option for you? Let us know in the comments.

Tags: Electronics | Shopping | Technology