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Apps, QR Codes, Virtual shopping, oh my!  We’ve all seen the video of Tesco’s virtual grocery store in Korea’s subway stations (click here), but did we think Canada would see the same concept in Toronto this soon?    We know that Canadian smartphone penetration has reached 45% of the mobile space and Canadians are some of the most engaged online users, but are we ready for a virtual store?

Well it’s here!  Well.ca launched “the first QR‐code virtual store in North America.”  Well.ca started in the back room of Ali Asaria’s father’s pharmacy.  What was a small closet of products that were shipped out to online customers soon became a thriving business which outpaced sales of the bricks-and-mortar store.  The growth of the business is one example of the appetite Canadian consumers have for online shopping and a definite void in the market thus far.

Well.ca’s virtual store is running from April 2nd to 30th.  J.C. Williams Group was privy to a test run last week of the Well.ca mobile app and had the opportunity to visit the virtual store today:

  • The pop-up virtual store, approximately 7 ft. x 10 ft. and 7 ft. x 22 ft., is located by the entrance to Brookfield Place near Union Station and mimics the look and feel of real store shelves, stocked with everything from toothpaste to shampoo.
  • Shoppers must download a free app, scan the QR codes on the wall with their mobile device and will then have the products delivered to their homes for free.
  • The app is available on all phones such as the iPhone, Android, BlackBerry and Windows Phone.  The design of the app is commendable making it easy to use for any consumer.
  • The app store itself has 55,000 products available to customers.
  • No longer do downtown shoppers have to struggle with expensive prices for basic products and they don’t have to lug their health and beauty products on the subway!

While many of the busy downtown Torontonians were caught up in the everyday march of out-to-lunch and back-to-the-office, there were a few smiles from those who did stop, and who understood the concept.  Shoppers are used to seeing marketing in the form of embellished designs, television advertisements and so on; but will the mere presence of the product itself in the context of a mobile store (which can be placed in virtually any location) be a new form of marketing?  It is too early to tell but if this venture for Well.ca is successful we’ll be seeing many more pop-up virtual stores all over North America.

Location of Virtual Store

From the 181 Bay St. entrance, proceed down the escalators and toward Union Station.  The Virtual store is located just outside the Union Station TTC Subway stop.

Innovative Retail Concepts

For this and other innovative retail concepts from around the world, click here.

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