Augmented Reality: Koreans Grocery Shop While Waiting For the Subway

By Veronique Greenwood | July 5, 2011 3:34 pm

For those of us for whom multitasking is a high art, a South Korean retail experiment combining grocery shopping with commuting looks like a godsend.

In a bid to boost online sales, grocery retailer Tesco covered the walls of a Korean subway station with photos of its merchandise arranged on store shelves. Each item was endowed with a QR code, those black-and-white squares recognized by smartphones, and commuters on their way in to work could snap pictures of the codes with phones to fill a virtual shopping cart. They paid for their items via an app, and the food was delivered to their homes after they got home from work.

No after-work grocery shopping crush, no squeaky-wheeled carts, no post-apocalyptic check-out lines. Just a little less time devoted to playing Angry Birds on the platform.

In terms of technology, nothing here is new: QR codes have been around since the 90s and began to appear on ads soon after the advent of smartphones, and grocery shopping online with services like Peapod is old (fifteen-year-old) news. But this appears to be the first time the two have been combined.

It’s certainly a more constructive use for QR codes than sending people to a funny video or coupon. And the service proved very popular among the more than 10,000 people who used it over the course of the campaign. Its online sales grew by 130% after the trial and new registered members increased by 76%, Tesco says in a promotional video.

No word yet on whether Tesco will make subway shopping a regular part of its services. But can we put in a bid for US cities to be next? It would be nice to use that wait for something more useful than counting rats.

(via Technology Review)

Image credit: Tesco

  • j

    It’s strange how maligned those codes are in the West. Here in Japan, I have been using them for useful purposes since 2003 when I moved here.

  • Dan

    Loving it simply loving it – we @goaugmented more do things with augmented reality and mobile phones but the more these clever QR codes are used the more people get used to using their mobile phones for adding to their lives – we love it.

  • Michaela Schmied

    I just Love this example of outernet digital interaction. However it’s not to be mistaken with Augmented Reality, which is digital information overlaid onto an representation of the viewers surrounding world (most often made in a real-time videostream). Extra curricula: the overlaid data would preferrably be spatially aligned with the content of the videostream too.

    This QR-code application is as you can see a flat printed poster, with a QR-code url-link to a webshop, hence instead considered a ‘Mixed Reality’-application and the difference is huge. Please adjust the heading of this article.


  • L

    Great idea! But…the video & article leave me wondering:

    Did the initial picture taken prompt users to download an app?
    Did the backlits have absolutely no information/directions?
    What’s the lag time between trains?
    How long did the campaign run?
    Were there any “in-stock” issues?
    The video noted that subway stations were the 1st try – what other media was tried?


  • john sefton

    The only reason I am posting is to promote
    my atomic model, the galaxy model for the atom,
    which I have used to explain Benzene:

  • Matt Raynes

    Augmented reality is the future, FACT! This incredible technology is going to revolutionise nearly all avenues of daily life as we know it. It needs embracing and realising now, its benefits are going to be great and change the surface and fabric of what we consider now to be modern day society.

  • Matt B.

    I’ve heard of QR codes exactly once before this in connection with smart phones. Other than that, I’ve only heard of them in parcel delivery, so I don’t know why J says they’re maligned in the West. So far, they seem to be barely heard of.


Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!


Quirky, funny, and surprising science news from the edge of the known universe.

See More

Collapse bottom bar