China's Yihaodian Plans 1,000 Virtual Supermarkets Where You'll Shop Via QR Codes

Steven Millward

At a press conference earlier today, China’s biggest food e-commerce site, Yihaodian, announced plans to build 1,000 virtual supermarkets at locations across the country. These stores, to be called “ Unlimited Yihaodian ” will actually just be full of product images and QR codes - yes, no actual physical products - so shoppers can just scan the QRs to add an item to their virtual basket. The items that are bought will then be delivered - just like with Yihaodian’s regular website.

Yihaodian has some experience with such QR-oriented virtual stores having set up some relatively small-scale ones in some major city subway stations last year.

But its new wave of stores will be larger than those promotional small-scale efforts made up of posters that lined the pillars of subway stations in Shanghai and Beijing (pictured right) - the 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.

It’s an interesting concept, fusing the best of online shopping (the speed, the lack of carrying stuff or queueing, the to-your-door deliveries) with the best of the relatively normal act of walking around a store. It therefore cuts out the tedium of making hundreds of clicks on a website or within an app to buy common foods and household items. Think of it as e-commerce but where the ‘e’ also means exercise.

It's something that has already been done well by the UK retailer Tesco in South Korea, where its QR supermarkets boosted online sales by 130 percent.

The American retailer Walmart (NYSE:WMT - News) owns a 51.3 percent stake in Yihaodian, but it won’t be involved in these QR-oriented stores - or any other offline ventures by Yihaodian. That’s after China’s Ministry of Commerce made it abundantly clear that anti-monopoly laws mean that Yihaodian and Walmart will have to watch their step. It’s thought that Yihaodian might also open some non-virtual and totally conventional convenience stores in some business districts in major cities - but that wasn’t announced at today’s event.

[Source: QQ Tech - article in Chinese]