Tesco Launches “Virtual Store” At Gatwick Airport

Offers to shop while waiting for a flight, with food delivered once customers are back

Tesco has launched the UK’s first “interactive grocery store”, located in the North Terminal of the Gatwick airport, aiming to help travellers fill their fridges for the day they return home.

The store consists of ten displays showing a selection of food products that can be bought and paid for through a smartphone app.

Virtual fridge

Tesco launched what it claimed to be the world’s first “virtual store” in South Korea last year. It enabled commuters to shop in subways and at bus stops by simply pointing their smartphones at billboards. The company doesn’t say how many products were sold, but the stunt certainly generated publicity, resulting in 25 million online posts around the globe.

For the UK launch, Tesco came up with something a little more sophisticated: huge touchscreen displays in white frames, resembling industrial fridges.

The screens show a selection of products on moving pages that customers can scroll with their hands. Once the desired item is found, ordering it is as easy as pointing a smartphone at it. The dedicated Tesco app will scan the barcode, add the item to the basket and offer a range of payment options. Holidaymakers can book a home delivery slot up to three weeks away, and the shopping will be waiting for them once they are back from the trip.

According to Tesco, around 30,000 people depart from Gatwick’s North Terminal each day, and each has an average of 70 minutes of spare time while awaiting their flight. This time can now be spent making sure that a pot of instant noodles isn’t the only source of sustenance in the house.

The pilot will involve four virtual fridges and six smaller displays, offering a choice of 80 essential products, including milk, eggs, cheese and cereal.

In order to do their “virtual shopping”, customers will have to download the Tesco smartphone app. It is available on devices running iOS or Android, with Windows Phone 7 and others ignored for the time being. Registering with Tesco.com is another requirement, which allows instant access to thousands of grocery products not listed on the “fridges”.

“Our business in Korea is teaching us a lot about how customers and technology are transforming shopping. It gives us a unique window into the future and the chance to try out exciting new concepts. The virtual store blends clicks and bricks, bringing together our love of browsing with the convenience of online shopping,” said Tesco’s Internet retailing director, Ken Towle.

“As a busy working mum of two, I know that planning holidays can be stressful. The last thing you want is an empty fridge when you get back. When we came up with the idea for the virtual store at Gatwick, we really wanted to provide a helpful service for busy families,” added Mandy Minichiello, senior marketing manager for Tesco.com.

It is fairly obvious that users don’t need the “virtual fridges” in order to shop online or order delivery at a later date. Once the app is downloaded, it gives automatic access to the whole Tesco product range. However, this gimmick with its mix of physical and digital could push people to experiment with online grocery shopping, and that’s what Tesco is hoping for.

But users might want to look elsewhere if worried about staying safe when shopping, as last week Tesco was criticised for lax security on its website and placing its online customers at risk.

The “virtual store” pilot will run in Gatwick’s North Terminal departure lounge during the two busiest weeks of the year, from 6 to 19 August.

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