Smartphone users in South Korea can shop for groceries during their commute, thanks to a subway-stop virtual store, showing how devices help people perform everyday tasks with ease and convenience.
To shop, subway riders can simply use their phones to take a picture of Quick Response, or QR, codes on photographs of groceries that adorn the walls of a Seoul subway station. The groceries are then automatically ordered for delivery and those placed by 1:00 p.m. arrive in time for dinner. The store also sells electronics, office supplies and toiletries.
As more people worldwide adopt smartphone technology, the posters may pop up in surprising places to help users do much more than send texts and play games.
For example, lock maker Yale developed technology allowing users to lock and unlock doors using an authorized smartphone. Apps and services now help people fill up their electric cars, fill out insurance paperwork, and, even use QR codes to schedule mammograms using their mobile devices.
South Korea is one of the world’s most wired countries, with more than ten million smartphone subscribers and an Internet use rate around 80 percent, so it was a likely first choice for Homeplus, an affiliate of British supermarket chain Tesco, to test its virtual market.
According to the Samsung Economic Research Institute in Seoul, there are also cultural aspects that make South Korea a good candidate for this type of service.
“Koreans are really interested in converging and cramming many different functions into a single gadget… in order to find novel ways to complete ordinary tasks,” said the Institute’s Kwon Ki-Duk in a BBC interview.
It’s too soon to tell if the virtual grocery store experiment will be a success. Recent reports said passers-by were taking pictures of the store’s display, but only a few were shopping. Potential customers said they would buy some items from the virtual store, but preferred to select other purchases, like vegetables and fruits, with their own hands.
Yet, with 200,000 people passing through the station daily, Homeplus believes the store will grow more popular, and the retailer plans to roll out similar virtual stores in other subway stations and countries, making it possible for commuters to shop on the way home without making an extra stop.