The Virtual Shelf
December 15, 2011
I have this little problem. Every time I walk into the grocery store, I walk out with more than I planned to buy. It's not really impulse buying, I just didn't remember I needed all that extra stuff until I saw it sitting there on the shelf.
I think this is one of the reasons online sales of household goods and groceries haven't taken off like other categories. But recently, retailers in Korea and the Czech Republic have come up with an idea that could change that. I'm calling it the Virtual Shelf.
The Virtual Shelf capitalizes on the see-then-buy shopping mentality, which is more prevalent in our busy lives. It boosts sales by bringing products to the shopper, rather than making shoppers search for products.
The set-up is pretty simple. Install a floor-to-ceiling poster in a transit station that mimics a grocery store aisle. Shoppers scan a QR code next to a product to add it to their carts, and the items are shipped to their door within two days.
The idea is currently billed as a timesaving solution for busy commuters, but I think it's more. The Virtual Shelf could be the tool that finally helps online grocery retailers beat their brick-and-mortar competitors. It's far less expensive to build and operate than a traditional store, and it takes up less real estate. Besides putting shelves in public areas, companies could set up full-size virtual supermarkets in a small retail spaces.
It's possible that the Virtual Shelf could create the Amazon.com of grocery stores. And think about what other applications this idea could have; express shopping in department stores, renting a movie from a movie poster. Is shopping on the verge of another reinvention, or is this just an interesting idea with a short shelf life?