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Tesco trials interactive virtual shops at Gatwick Airport to drive up app use and to experiment in new ways to reach customers

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Tesco has kicked off the holiday season in style with the launch of a two week trial at Gatwick Airport of virtual grocery shops aimed at getting consumers to shop via mobile before they jet off on holiday so that they don’t come home to an empty fridge.

The ten screens dotted around the North terminal are emblazened with the legend “come home to a full fridge” and are the size of a vending machine. They feature, through giant touchscreen technology, access to 80 of the most popular items found in the grocery section of, which customers can buy using the barcode scanning function on their Tesco grocery app.

The 80 items are grouped into four screens of refrigerated items and four of store cupboard items. Each item has a bar code and shoppers simply fire up their Tesco grocery app on their smartphone and scan to create a shopping list that they can then arrange to be delivered when they get home. They can also get access to the other 19,920 grocery items on through the phone app if they can’t find what they want on the virtual shop.

There are staff on hand to explain how it works, to talk shoppers through how to download the app and sign up to – if they aren’t already using it – and even a couple of iPads to let customers sign up there and then.

See it in action at the launch (and here what a couple of holidaymakers think) here

The plan, says Tesco, is to give consumers yet another easy way to access the retailer’s goods and to get more people to download the app, use it and see how great online grocery shopping can be. The retailer also admits that it’s something of an experiment, believing that sometimes the only way to see of these things work is to try them.

The retailer also sees it as a way of linking the real world of shopping with mobile commerce, to encourage more people to use m-retail. It also taps into the massive growth the company is seeing in m-retail. Currently, 16% of all online shopping at Tesco involves a smartphone at some stage, with half of these being shopping sprees that take place entirely on the phone. And this is growing in line with smartphone penetration growth, which currently, in the UK, stands at 50%.

Around 30,000 people depart from Gatwick’s North Terminal each day and each has an average of 70 minutes of downtime while waiting for flights. They can now use this time to ensure they don’t have to make a trip to the shops on their way home.

The virtual store will be open for business in Gatwick Airport’s North Terminal departure lounge during the two busiest weeks of the year, from 6 to 19 August.

Tesco’s Internet Retailing Director, Ken Towle, said at the launch in the North terminal: “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. It’s a chance to showcase what we can do to the 30,000 people a day who will depart from Gatwick’s North Terminal, many of whom will have a genuine need to fill their fridges when they get home, and we’re looking forward to hearing what they think.”

Senior Marketing Manager for, Mandy Minichiello, added: “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. You can book a delivery slot up to 3 weeks in advance, do a full grocery shop while waiting for a flight and it’ll be delivered to your home when you get back.”

The Gatwick opening builds on Tesco’s launch of the world’s first virtual store in South Korea last year, an innovation which generated 25 million online posts around the globe. The Korean virtual store allowed commuters to shop in subways and at bus stops by pointing their mobile phones at billboards. Tesco is now trialing the concept for the first time in the UK, but this time using interactive digital displays.

Tesco is the first retailer to offer passengers at an airport a service of this kind, but builds on a growing trend of using mobile and virtual shops to get consumers using m-reatiling. Tesco has, this summer, already tried out some virtual shop windows for its F+F clothes in Covent Garden using augmented reality, while Ocado rolled out a temporary ‘pop up’ virtual shop in the City of London in last August and more recently in Birmingham.

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