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Chinese e-tailer to build 1,000 empty stores

Walmart-owned Yihaodian will fill them with QR codes

Tesco Home Plus subway scanning in Korea

Chinese e-commerce giant Yihaodian has hit upon a novel approach to food retail – open 1,000 supermarkets which don’t contain any actual food, but instead feature images of items alongside scannable QR codes. Shoppers will scan the codes for the products they desire, and the goods will be delivered to their homes.

The Unlimited Yihaodian stores will have around 1,200m2of floor space and contain 1,000 items.

The first store is scheduled to open in the Guangzhou and Shenzhen regions of southern China, according to Tencent Technology News (via TechInAsia).

US retail giant Walmart has a 51.3 per cent controlling stake in Yihaodian but is not thought to be getting involved in this venture for regulatory reasons.

The virtual supermarket project is a pertinent reminder of the new opportunities available to those retailers who think ‘multi-channel’. It could also be a hint of things to come in the industry as rivals compete for the attention of smartphone-toting but increasingly time-starved consumers.

Yihaodian has already toyed with the idea on a smaller scale, sticking up posters in subway and bus stations in Chinese cities featuring products with their QR codes available for online purchase.

UK retailer Tesco has also been experimenting with this new form of multi-channel commerce, rolling out similar virtual shelves in subway stations last year in South Korea under its HomePlus brand to close the gap massively on rival E-Mart.

In August this year it dipped its toe in the waters of Blighty, installing a virtual kiosk at Gatwick Airport where outbound holidaymakers can shop and have goods delivered on their return home. ®

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