(Virtual) Food For Thought: Virtual Supermarkets

During this day and age, there are two main themes behind our technological advances as a human race: innovation and convenience. Almost everything is available via the Internet and accessible with our computers or smart phones. We can shop for clothes, order dinner, pay our bills, and do a lot more using our handheld devices. The newest addition to our already impressive lineup is a virtual supermarket. I know what you’re wondering, does this mean I will have to eat virtual food? The answer is no, virtual supermarkets have the same end goal as ordinary grocery stores: you get your produce in your fridge as expected.

Virtual supermarkets started in Japan and South Korea by Tesco Homeplus, a British grocery company. They are strategically located in subway stations alongside the walls and are set up as regular grocery stores, but instead of actual products, there are pictures of the items with a QR code beneath them. Users scan the QR codes with their smart phones and add the items to a virtual shopping cart. Once all of the products are in the cart, the shopper places the order and is charged through their credit card. The groceries then arrive at the person’s doorstep the next day. Virtual supermarkets eliminate the hassle of actually visiting a grocery store, physically carrying the items, and they also save a lot of time for shoppers.

The U.S. has caught on to the craze by introducing virtual supermarkets in Chicago, Boston, New York, and other major metropolitan areas. Peapod, a U.S. grocery company, has taken the initiative by setting up  virtual supermarkets in subway stations just like Japan and South Korea. So far, there has been positive feedback from the younger generation, but  older people prefer to physically visit the stores. This shows that we are truly in an age of innovation and convenience, or that we have become extremely lazy.

An advantage that virtual supermarkets have from an operations management perspective is the management of inventory. By not having the inventory physically present, the products won’t sit on the shelves and companies can place orders for certain items based on the online demand, eliminating backlog.

I believe that having virtual supermarkets is a step forward in the right direction, but this step lacks some benefits that are present when physically being in a store. When I was younger, I used to always accompany my mom to the grocery store and she would tell me how to pick out the ripe fruits, or how to tell similar vegetables apart. She knew exactly what she was getting by touching and feeling the products. Another missing component to virtual grocery shopping is taste-testing the food. Many times we are not certain about what to buy and by trying a sample, we decide whether or not to purchase the product. That is one advantage that places like Costco will have over virtual supermarkets.

Virtual supermarkets define innovation and convenience, but are not for everyone. Would you ever consider using one, and if so, do you see virtual supermarkets replacing physical grocery stores in the future?







5 thoughts on “(Virtual) Food For Thought: Virtual Supermarkets

  1. While this idea may be convenient, I think there are issues it. As the author mentioned, in a virtual supermarket you don’t have the luxury of hand-picking the produce you wish to purchase. Also, what happens if you want to buy something that you want to use right away but can’t because of the time it will take for you to receive the product? The overall idea is a good one, but I feel that it lacks certain aspects that you can only experience in a traditional supermarket.

  2. I actually learned of the virtual shopping concept for quite some time now and was waiting to see when it would come to the states. I find it to be a really innovative concept. In our society nowadays, we are all about being efficient. Having to live in this fast-paced environment most would complain that they simply does not have enough time on their hand. A simple task like doing a weekly or monthly grocery shopping can be time-consuming for most. However, with this concept people are able to get some of their grocery shopping done while they are waiting for their train to come. Furthermore, the images displayed on the walls of the subway is so eye-catching that it makes people stop and take a look, for some it might be a little reminder of something that they need to buy or to just add it into their shopping list. I think virtual supermarkets will be a growing trend and is here to last.

  3. I think a virtual supermarket is an interesting alternative to your everyday supermarket, but I do not think I would shop there. Often times, I find myself at the grocery store because I need a particular item immediately. Waiting for my groceries to arrive the next day would probably discourage me from shopping at a virtual supermarket.

  4. This is a very interesting topic and a great segment. At first glance this seems like an unrealistic and radical approach to provide a service for consumers; but so did the iPad. The combination of technology and produce/food staples is a great way to hedge any risk caused by fluctuations in our markets. On one side you have the technology sector which has exploded over the past 3 years and on the other you have the food sector which will always stand strong should any collapse occur; after all people do have to eat. However this service does have its drawbacks. The most important one I think, is the fact that you don’t get to see what it is you are buying until it shows up at your door step. Also, I don’t see this service appealing to the older generations at all, but I think this service has been submitted to the public at the right time for it to be profitable somewhere down the road. I think as time goes on people will find this option more appealing because we are all so busy. It sounds ridiculous to say “really you can’t spend 1 hour grocery shopping”. But it is true, that 1 hour can be directed towards much more important things instead of trying to find the best peach or kiwi. Look at it this way, how convenient is it that Domino’s or Jimmy Johns delivers? Why not groceries?

    -Again great topic, really enjoyed it.

  5. I do agree with the author’s statement in that virtual supermarkets are a step towards innovation and convenience, for it eliminates the need to travel to a brick-and-mortar store, which has its share of time and fuel costs. Like many other commenters have mentioned, though, it starts to become problematic when considering the delivery of these products. You will not receive your order until it has been shipped, and you cannot check the quality/freshness of the product; this can make all the difference when a parent or guardian needs to cook up a big dinner the next day. Therefore, I do not think virtual supermarkets will replace physical supermarkets entirely; both have valid reasons to operate, albeit on different concepts of time. Consumers in virtual supermarkets would probably use them to order groceries way in advance, while consumers at brick-and-mortar stores would probably shop because of the up-front necessity of the products.

    Very good topic!

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