The Gray Hair Speaketh

Advice that is largely Unsolicited..

So impressed by this Korean retail revolution..

So for all the innovation that the retail industry is supposedly doing, as a consumer, how different is the shopping experience at an organized retail outlet, in say, last 5 years?? Or more, if you have also shopped in organized retail, outside India??

I would think the difference, if any, is marginal. At least perception wise.

Sure, there are more options, perhaps some innovation in loyalty programs (marginal again), etc. If anything, there are challenges as you shop. All the time.

Long queues at the checkout counter. Not finding the item you are looking for, as it is tucked into some inner shelf (because of space constraints, among other things), hassled shelves with products here and there, as people have handled them and the staff has not been able to rearrange them.

So yes, it’s pretty much the same-old-same-old. Retailers have not been able to really crack the code and make the shopping experience significantly better for the shoppers.

And then you see this amazing innovation from Korea:

A virtual store that is “real”!!

So sure, we had e-commerce. Where you saw a picture on a computer screen, small in size, not getting the perception of just how big a packing it may be, and then paying by credit card or whatever, and then waiting for the finite time to receive the products.

And it worked to an extent. But did not significantly dent the offline store business.

People, it seems, still wanted to go to the store and shop. And get a feel of the real thing. Pick up the bags and come back. Make it an interesting experience of walking around, window shop, see new things that have come, maybe talk to someone, and then shop. That experience still rocked! Compared to the computer screen one.

But this Korean way gets you the best of both ways.

Visualize this…

Put these LCD screens with full sized product shelves look inside your store. Beautiful back-lit screens with absolutely life-life images. In anything, better looking than the packaging!! Leave ample space for people to walk around. Except without the shopping carts.

Packaged goods are finally bought largely from the packaging, not so much from touch-and-feel.

Use QR code or some other device* to enable shopping.

She walks around, selects what she wants using the QR codes, and then lands up at the check out counter.

If technology of automated assembly is implemented at the back-end (like a warehouse management system that is used in busy warehouses), the customer’s selected order could be ready by the time she comes to the check-out counter, duly packed. She pays and picks up the bags and walks out. Since the entire billing process is eliminated at the check out counter, the queue also moves rapidly.

Seriously path-breaking, what?

And why can’t some retailer make a first move of this kind in India? I think all it requires is to be bold enough?!

Yeah, yeah… you will ask, “what about the non-packaged products like fresh fruits and veggies, or what about those packaged products that customers like to smell (soaps, perfumes, maybe..)?”

Okay, so a small hybrid model can still happen. All of the packaged goods lines, which do not require anything special (which will be what, 80% of the items at least?!) can still be the virtual LCD panel way, and then 1 or 2 aisles can have the rest of the stuff.

It will still have tremendous impact, and will be a “real” innovation, as compared to trivial ones that retailers love to talk about..

Guess someone’s got to make the first move? Looking forward to this..

(* “Some other device”? – how about giving a small hand-held scan unit to a person when he she walks into the store. Unit has it’s unique code, so whatever that shopper scans around, is recorded for HIS ‘virtual shopping cart’; the code does not have to QR or it could be. Alternate simple coding structures could also be adopted. Shopper brings the unit back to check-out counter and picks up his bags!)


April 1, 2012 - Posted by | Retail | , , , , , ,


  1. In fact this need not be limited to only the store it can be extended to where ever one thinks people may have some time to stop and consider to buy online, at subways, stations, cafes, clubs, etc.

    The video in the above link explains :

    how one need not wait for people to come to your store or wait for them to find you on the internet and search engines. Go one step ahead and take the store to the people.Make it available wherever you think people can squeeze in some time to use their smart phones to shop. Don’t wait for them to find and search for your store. Create Virtual Stores to blend into their everyday lives.

    Comment by WebPro Technologies (@Webprotech) | April 1, 2012 | Reply

    • Sure, the stores on the subways have been there in Korea for a while. I find that a little hard to visualize in India for now. Could happen, as kiosks etc. But what I was talking about, was to still give the store shopping experience, and yet the advantages of this brilliant innovation..

      Comment by Sanjay Mehta | April 1, 2012 | Reply

  2. Wonderful post, it sums up everything one can imagine for this model to work in India.

    Regd the hybrid model, I think the stores with actual products at present can also test this model. This items would all be real, but a shopper can choose to pick up a trolley or else scan a QR at entrance to download the Store’s shopping app(this is just a one time activity, so next time the shopper can just walkin)
    Then instead of picking up things and filing a trolley, the user can scan a QR code(NFC in future). a display screen for that specific product will be shown on the customer’s smart phone/pad. It can display additional information like offers, other colors/flavours/sizes available. Also same product by a diff company(think of scanning maggi, and app would should top ramen as suggested item( if store as more margin on it)

    The user can also Like/Share/Save/Add to Favorite an item or complete shopping list.

    Then if user wants he will be emailed the nutrional charts/recipes of the items bought.

    With time if more customers start using this, the store can eradicate the actual stores in some pilot localities. The stores would also have data for shopping habits of specific individuals.

    Also next time when you are going to a mall/store you can start your shopping by adding your already known items(eggs/milk/soaps ..etc) from comfort of your office or while waiting at a traffic light to turn green. Once you are at store just add couple more or just checkout even before entering the store.

    Over a period of time people wil no longer visit stores and grocery shopping would become an activity to be done in absolute free time(waiting for bus, metro, sutting on comode, stuck in traffic jam) this is what TESCO has implemented in South Korea.

    Comment by supreet | April 1, 2012 | Reply

  3. I think stores in their current format can also experiment with this feature, shoppers can choose to pick up a shopping trolley or download an app using QR code/NFC.

    Then they can point at QR codes/NFC to add items to their virtual carts.
    Also stores can show the available sizes, colors, falvours of the prduct scanned lists can be shares/liked/saved etc ..

    Over a period of time the stores would know the percentage of people opting for virtual shopping carts.

    Also next time the shopper can start the shopping activity from his office/waiting at traffic lights, then once at Store he can add more items or just checkout even before entering the store. Once people are comfortable with this the shopping shelf can be put anywhere(bus stops/magazines/newspapers/websites/Facebook pages)

    Also the store would have data for shopping habits of individual shoppers.

    Comment by supreet | April 1, 2012 | Reply

    • Great ideas, Supreet.
      Yes, the extensions possible are amazing..
      For once, retailers have an opportunity to take it to the next level, and not just do window dressing!!

      Comment by Sanjay Mehta | April 1, 2012 | Reply

  4. I don’t think I agree. While virtual shelves may de-congest isles its hardly enhancing the shopping experience. if u want to touch an image and pay why not do it anywhere besides a store.

    I have never seen ppl (shopping from street vendors to high street) not touching, feeling (with the appropriate sense – touch, smell, etc.), comparing etc. while shopping in our country. Koreans might have evolved beyond the tangible world, I dont think we Indians have.

    While i think these shelves are awesome to put up at subway stations/bus-stops, or even inside the trains, busses or taxi’s; I cant for the life of me get going to a shop with these shelves and not the actual products. Why cant I do all this on any connected device.

    IMHO – this is overkill.

    Tech can be used to have smart shelves… which sense the product and alert the factory to send replacements no sooner are they bought – galvanizing the entire supply chain into online, real time action, if u will.

    Comment by Yuzdi | April 1, 2012 | Reply

    • Yuzdi,
      Yes, it looks clear that these shelves work very well on train stations etc. So we agree there.

      Why I do believe that these can be good inside stores too, is for the following reasons:
      1. People want to go shopping, pay cash, bring material home. That experience is retained. Not quite in the remote shopping experience.
      2. That people touch and smell things, even those which have nothing specific about the touch or the smell, is because the product is there to be touched and smelt. The decision is not really made on how the biscuit pack feels on touching or on its smell. I am largely referring to well recognized, packaged FMCG products. If there is a novelty option where touch or smell is not provided, but you will still pick up the product at the check out counter, I don’t see a reason why people would have an objection.
      3. The advantages of all products showing up nice and clearly (as images), being in the right place, will be good benefit for customers.

      i think it would work well.. !

      – Sanjay

      Comment by Sanjay Mehta | April 2, 2012 | Reply

  5. Agree with Sanjay Mehta

    Comment by Ravi Krishnana | June 10, 2012 | Reply

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