back to article Chinese e-tailer to build 1,000 empty stores

Chinese e-commerce giant Yihaodian has hit upon a novel approach to food retail – open 1,000 supermarkets which don’t contain any actual food, but instead feature images of items alongside scannable QR codes. Shoppers will scan the codes for the products they desire, and the goods will be delivered to their homes. The …


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  1. Ole Juul

    What's the point?

    Why would I need to go to a store to buy something which I can't see and can't get right away. I can shop like that from home.

    1. Esskay

      Re: What's the point?

      Replacing billboards in subways and train stations I can understand, since you can effectively do your shopping while waiting for a train to go to work in the morning, and find everything delivered when you get home (assuming there's someone there to accept delivery I guess...)

      But going out of your way to a "non-existent" supermarket - I agree, why not go to a real one?! Have they discovered some new niche in society - people too stupid to figure out how internet shopping on a PC works, but have enough disposable income to afford a smartphone with a QR code scanner? (also, 1200sq/m seems like a fuck-ton of space for 1,000 pictures of food - I mean, there only has to be one picture of each, so whats the extra space for?!

      I suppose we're at a point in society where the last remaining limiting factor of how much crap we can shovel into our mouths - namely, the need to be able to carry it all home - can be removed with the aid of technology.

      1. GoGlen

        Re: What's the point?

        Quote: "1200sq/m seems like a fuck-ton of space for 1,000 pictures of food - I mean, there only has to be one picture of each, so whats the extra space for?!"

        Um, silly -- for the lines and crowds trying to get to the best deals and fast-diminishing stock! Oh... wait...

    2. This post has been deleted by its author

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: What's the point?

      It is social and people can meet. Look how many singletons wander round supermarkets at night hoping for a date!

    4. DAN*tastik


      That was my thought straight away, then I realised that I went to Argos yesterday and there were people going home with their thick catalogue. I am not sure how that can be more practical than looking stuff up on the website, really...

      Possibly it can also attract the masses that type "facebook" in the address bar to get the Google results associated to the search then click on the top one.

    5. Velv

      Re: What's the point?

      You might THINK you can do it from home, but the wife will have other ideas - if you're not barging past people to get to the goods first then its not sport.

      And she knows how much you hate being dragged around the supermarket when you could be watching the football or down in the pub.

      Someone's got to keep an eye on the kids while they run around generally causing havoc and dropping goods into other peoples trolleys (although I guess the QR code supermarket doesn't have this problem)

      She's got you where she can see you and knows you can't get up to anything.

      She also gets to be chauffeured in the car while texting her friends and bitching about the DIY jobs that need done (which are also not getting done because you are at the bloody supermarket!!!)

      1. CaptainHook

        Re: What's the point?


        have a manly virtual hug, sounds like you need it.

    6. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: What's the point?

      because you, the Chinese consumer, don't have access to the internet at home.

      The supermarket lets you scan, either with your smartphone or more likely a shop-supplied scanner, and asks for your address and takes your payment.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: What's the point?

        "because you, the Chinese consumer, don't have access to the internet at home."

        Yes but you the Chinese consumer has plenty of access to supermarkets where you can actually leave with the items you have just purchased

        The market for this is pretty much people who don't have internet access at home or work, or a vehicle for transporting their shopping, but can somehow manage to make the trip to the supermarket and also don't mind that they don't get to personally select their goods (quite a big thing in China actually).

        I forsee a massive flop.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: What's the point?

          "I forsee a massive flop."

          Yeah, but if they manage to convince someone to buy the company before it runs out of money and/or its inherent stupidity becomes obvious even to the most stupid, that's not their problem.

          This whole thing is oddly reminiscent of a ten-years-on sequel to CueCat:-

          We would call it "CueCat II: The Shop" or "CueCat in China"

          1. Swarthy

            Re: What's the point?

            I see a grocery trip that can be accomplished on a bicycle.

  2. aurizon

    ?? Surely this can all be done from home via the web? Unless there is a large segment with phones and no internet? Might have the brains of a March Hare - Hare Brained??

    1. n4blue

      Unless there is a large segment with phones and no internet?

      I wouldn't be surprised if that is in fact the case in China and other developing markets.

      1. frank ly

        Re: Unless there is a large segment with phones and no internet?

        If they have phones that can scan QR codes and order items, then surely they have a mobile internet data connection?

        The article doesn't give technical details so I suppose it's possible that the phone uses bluetooth to finally communicate with some kind of payment kiosk at the exit of the shop..........who knows?

        1. MrXavia

          Re: Unless there is a large segment with phones and no internet?

          It is possible the reason is that Chinese don't like paying by card yet... maybe....

          But in that case why not do like they do for other internet orders, pay Cash On Delivery???

      2. aBloke FromEarth

        Re: Unless there is a large segment with phones and no internet?

        uh, I guess you didn't read the El Reg article about Shenzhen?

        Chinese cities, where these shops will be, are extremely well connected. Tons of 4G and shops with wifi. You're looking at about 350 million living in urban areas of greater than half a million people.

        It's not all bicycles and paddy fields, you know.

        1. Robert Helpmann??

          Re: Unless there is a large segment with phones and no internet?

          "It's not all bicycles and paddy fields, you know."

          No, not all, but there are still tons of bikes, especially in many urban settings. I get the idea of having the goods delivered. I even understand how setting the customers up to order by smart phone. I still do not have a clue why all that space is necessary. Even if you wanted to set something like this up, wouldn't it be more efficient (more profitable) for the owners to have kiosks or lounge areas with catalogs. What could they possibly gain from using the space in this fashion? Who makes up their target customers?

          1. aBloke FromEarth

            Re: Unless there is a large segment with phones and no internet?

            They probably need space for all the LEDs and loudspeakers. It's the Chinese way, after all: the brighter and louder, the better.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      doesn`t have to be a phone

      I'd imagine if you don't have a phone with qr capabilities then they will ave handheld scanners for use.

      Much like waitrose (possibly others) do for bar codes now...

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Makes sense in a weird kind of way

    The vast majority of us still go to physical retail locations to shop.

    So it makes sense, kind of, if during your shopping trip, you could go into a shop and buy your items for delivery as the article states, and not have to worry about carrying them home.

    "I'm going into town today to get a new 'whatever', but I'll pop into the supermarket and get the weeks shopping too whilst I'm there and have it delivered tomorrow."

    Not everyone wants to shop online. People still enjoy walking around a store and it's part of a social experience.

    So yeah, kind of makes sense.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Makes sense in a weird kind of way

      Nah, it makes no sense, if I've wasted an hour wondering around a shop, i want to take what I got home now... if I order online I am willing to wait!

  4. Fred Flintstone Gold badge

    And a few hour later..

    .. a van delivers pictures of all the things you scanned.

  5. Dare to Think
    IT Angle

    This is the future of premium shopping

    Ask the customer to hold up his NFC phone or Oyster Card to the TV screen or poster and order and pay while the hype is still working.

    There may be some difficulties with fresh food, and the 14 day cooling off period for non-food items, but generally I would see this the future of premium retail.

    Interestingly, the other future of retailing is....the good old booth. Yes, those small family run businesses pay a minimal fee to the council, need no air conditioning, lightning, company pension scheme etc., are quick to erect and quick to go and accept only cash. Rock bottom cheap and have the same or better quality as the goods in the supermarket.

  6. D@v3

    Grocery shopping

    The thing with this, and on line shopping in general, is, it's fine for non-grocery items; tins of soup, packets of crisps, kitchen roll, shower gel etc etc. It's not so good for fresh fruit and veg (or many other items), where it pays to be able to inspect the quality of the food your buying.

  7. DrXym Silver badge

    The stupidest idea ever

    So I have to leave my house to browse a shop for virtual goods with my camera which will be delivered at some unspecified point to my house? I assume they provide an app for this which begs the question why a person has to leave their house at all.

    I could understand the idea that stores which sold actual goods had a small section or catalogue which carried a larger range for home delivery. I could also understand if the pictures were in some flyer, or on the wall of a bus stop or something where commuters might impulse buy them. But it isn't, at least not as it's described. As described it just seems like a really stupid idea.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: The stupidest idea ever

      The shops are in China. Do you think that everyone has ready access to the internet in their homes there?

      1. DrXym Silver badge

        Re: The stupidest idea ever

        "The shops are in China. Do you think that everyone has ready access to the internet in their homes there?"

        Yes I do. Their phones would need an QR scanning app and some means to transmit their order for delivery, monitor status etc. in order to shop virtually. That's internet and many people would have their own internet connection or an internet cafe nearby.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: The stupidest idea ever

          You are assuming that shoppers must provide their own QR code scanner. It is unclear whether that assumption is valid.

  8. Big_Boomer Silver badge

    increasingly time-starved consumers?

    If you don't have enough time in the day, then you either work too long or have too many hobbies. If you work too long then you are either incompetent or just don't want to go home. I suppose there will be a few out there who actually NEED to work long hours but they are few and far between and normally self-employed.

    Is there anyone else out there who is sick of this "I work more hours than you do" culture? Personally I'd prefer to hire someone who worked intelligently and went home at 5:30pm.

    As for the QR code shop,... I'd rather shop online.

  9. Da Weezil
    Thumb Down

    Still prefer the old fashioned way, so I get the stuff with the longest date.. un-dented tins un-crushed pakets, and perishables like fruit and veg that I have chosen

    It also allows me to chase some of the bargains that show up on consumer sites where an on-line order may be canceled before dispatch once the seller works out that they have a pricing glitch... they cant cancel a real time purchase once it is completed.

  10. OffBeatMammal

    makes sense

    I can see how this would work...

    On my way to the office, or in my lunch hour stroll around and stock up on groceries. I got to work on the bus so I don't want to carry a load of stuff with me, but having it delivered to my home at a pre-arranged time... makes sense.

    I'd probably not want to do that with meat and fresh veggies (though in the past I've used ShopFast in Australia and AmazonFresh in the US without complaint) and from experiences in China if they can deliver it in a refrigerated truck it's going to be in better condition than if I tried to get it home on public transport!

    Right now if you buy white goods it works pretty much that way... the store only has one of each as a display model... pick what you want and they arrange delivery from a warehouse at an agreed date...

  11. Plastic Superhero

    Sounds like a good idea

    Perfect for commuters I'd say. You can just pop in on your lunch break or on the way home and get your shopping done and not worry about lugging shopping bags around on the train or whatever. Also good if you're in town with quite a few things to do.

    But then again you could get the same net result if you shop online. Who knows, it could be a cultural thing. If online shopping has failed to take off then this is sort of a happy medium.

    1. Roland6 Silver badge

      Re: Sounds like a good idea

      Basically, this is grocery shopping a la Argos.

      Why go to a store and take pictures of what you want to purchase from what is effectively a well presented catalogue? well I can practically guarantee that most people (ie. joe public) can complete a typical supermarket run using a an app and camera faster than doing exactly the same thing wholly online.

      Because lines don't change very often, there is a point where a printed catalogue will be both cheaper to produce and distribute than having to furnish and maintain a large number of high tech retail outlets, with the associated high tech infrastructure linking it all together.

      Now the really clever part is that because the customer uses (an app?) on THEIR smartphone to scan codes and then to upload a completed order via wWiFi/3G there is no need for a till and hence money in the store. So here we have a store that has: no stock, minimal and cheap fixtures and fittings, no checkouts (checkout is handled electronically as a back office function) and hence can be operated without permanent staff and so truly be open 24x7. Now think where you could put such a store? places where people are waiting but are away from home - stations and airports are obvious candidates, but other locations are also viable, I can imagine my local village shop having a larger selection of products available for home delivery through such a system.

      Finally, this approach can be applied to many types of retail outlets, for example restaurants could deliver meals on the train, at your destination station or even at home.

  12. KAMiKZ

    when I read up to the words that read they would scan the QR codes in the store, I was thinking "oh that's a good idea, they then will proceed to the 'check out' and their goods will be there neatly in a box, then NFC kicks into pay. Wow, that's fast, wish they have this here"

    boy was I disappointed as I read just a little further.

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