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On the Shanghai Metro, shop for groceries while you wait

by Michael on September 19, 2011

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On the Shanghai Metro I kept noticing large backlit billboards that looked like a photo of supermarket shelves. Even some of the columns supporting the station had the same pictures wrapped around them. Various products from beverages to noodles to Huggies were displayed in rows. It didn’t seem like much design had gone into them.

Do your grocery shopping while waiting for a train

Then I noticed little squares underneath each product, the type that are showing up more frequently in magazine ads. The squares are composed of more black-and-white squares that fit inside them and are called QR code squares; a new technology that makes ordinary bar codes seem mundane. If your camera phone has the appropriate app you point it at the square, click and get product information sent to your phone. On the Metro I saw people scanning the billboards with their phone, clicking, and then moving on.

In America these QR code squares are becoming ever more ubiquitous, mostly in magazine ads. In China though they have once again raised the technology bar. When a person points their phone and clicks on a product they are placing an order for it. The items will then be delivered to them at home or work by the next day.  Imagine being able to complete your grocery shopping while waiting for a train? This takes impulse shopping, and convenience, to a whole new level.

...and yes, they even have Budweiser.

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{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Mar September 20, 2011 at 11:27 am

I don’t know if I like the convenience or not. I use my walk around the supermarket as my exercise for the day. Granted it is not at a fast pace, but I am on my feet and it is weight bearing. My first thought was that it wouldn’t work in NYC because of the volume of people. But then I realized there are far more people in Shanghai than in NYC. I can’t imagine a subway system more crowded than New York’s. When I first started working as a naive high school graduate, I used to let crowded subway cars go by. Then I realized I would never get to work at that rate and pushed and shoved as all the rest were!

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Michael September 20, 2011 at 11:44 am

I’m glad to hear you are not so naive anymore.

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Pete September 21, 2011 at 12:29 am

Hey, a way to combine Transit and Supermarketing…I am all for it!

Except I don’t think the technology that I have is quite there yet. I recently put a code reader on my phone (yes, it took me months to figure out that I didn’t need a new phone with a special scanner, but could just use the camera on my existing phone–d’oh!) , and it seems to sometimes read the codes wrong. Maybe I need to clean the lens or something, but I sometimes get it coming back with an invalid or meaningless code instead of the link to the website or whatever.

Annoying to be sure, but now just think if I went to order a six-pack of beer and instead what was delivered to my house was 35 rolls of flypaper or a large piece of dried seaweed or maybe a gallan jug of toe fungus cream. I guess it’s the modern technology equivalent of someone putting something in the wrong cart in the supermarket.

But I have one more question –Can you order Donuts this way?

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Michael September 21, 2011 at 4:18 am

You know there were so many donut places and bakeries in Shanghai, particularly near train stations, that you wouldn’t even need to order them.

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Zena Charokopos September 21, 2011 at 10:53 pm

FYI ~ Just copied this after reading your post~
This month Best Buy added QR codes to the fact tags in all their U.S. retail stores, making them the first national retailer in the US to embrace their shopper’s desire to use mobile devices during their shopping trips.

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Michael September 22, 2011 at 12:38 am

Apparently many shoppers use the codes to check for cheaper prices online and then use their phone to purchase the item at someone elses’s web site while they are standing in the store. I wonder what this means for the future of retail real estate.

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Zena Charokopos September 22, 2011 at 8:55 pm

There will always be those of us who have a better comfort in purchasing items in a retail setting. It is a great advantage for the technology savy to have the ability to negotiate their large purchase items. No doubt, the day will come, when life as we know it will progress with the times. Good thought… retail will always exist for us shoppers who need an immediate fix.

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Michael September 22, 2011 at 9:27 pm

As we walk around Hong Kong we are amazed at the number of mega malls but we wonder, do you think there will be a day when shops no longer exist and everything is purchased on-line?

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Anonymous September 23, 2011 at 12:05 am

Not a chance… Shopping with friends is a pleasurable & bonding experience for some. That would compare to a day when sports events are no longer attended!! Great exercise walking through those mega malls : )

Zena Charokopos September 24, 2011 at 2:13 pm

Met with another broker from Mertz yesterday. I mentioned your travels and relayed your story about the QR Codes… he pulled out our business card, turned to the back of it… and low and behold there was a QR code on it. Apparently NAI Mertz is testing this idea. I just downloaded my first QR reader app on my phone to read his card. I immediately called our marketing department to ask if they could order my new cards. WOW… welcome to a new world! Information is great! Thx for the eye opener : ) (and the cards look more attractive with this QR logo) haha!

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Michael September 24, 2011 at 9:06 pm

Maybe someday we’ll all just walk around with QR codes on our forehead. It would make introductions much easier.

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Zena Charokopos September 24, 2011 at 6:48 pm

Not sure why I became Anonymous in my last comment! I guess I hit reply without following format. Looking forward to learning more from your travels!

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Michael September 23, 2011 at 12:18 am

You know I hadn’t thought of a day when sporting events are just televised and not seen in person. Nowadays my Phillies sell out every game because they are winning, but I wonder what the future holds as the technology of the in-home experience of watching a game imporves every year. Thanks for checking in!

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