Woolworths Launches First Virtual Australian Supermarket

In a bid to capitalise on consumers’ increasing need for convenient and time efficient solutions, Woolworths has combined public transport and grocery shopping by taking online ordering to a station near you…well to stations in the Sydney and Melbourne CBDs anyway. The retailer has launched its first virtual store in Sydney last night, with Melbourne to follow today, claiming this to be a first for Australian supermarkets.

Currently stocking 120 different products, the first virtual store is located on the concourse level of Sydney’s Town Hall station, between the Park Street and George Street exits, with Melbourne’s store being showcased at Flinders Street Station. Potential customers are able to go ‘in store’ and  browse a range of product photos, each marked with a barcode or QR code. Using the Woolworths’ Android or iPhone app to  scan the codes of wanted product, orders are then placed and finalised via woolworths’ online store, with the orders being filled by bricks and mortar shops close to the delivery address. The retailer’s usual $30 online minimum order value and delivery charges still apply.

“The virtual supermarket wall is just one idea we are working on to make our customers’ lives easier,” said Tjeerd Jegen, Woolworths Director of Supermarkets. “The virtual supermarket will be at Town Hall for a week and we will take feedback from customers throughout this time.  This experience will provide us with important information on how we can develop this concept into the future.”

Mixing train stations and shopping certainly isn’t new – just look to Japan, where this has been done for years. In fact in some stations, the shopping is so good that the station mall is seen as a destination in itself.  While the various Japanese rail companies don’t employ this as a tactic to distract from late trains (anybody that has taken a subway ride in Japan knows how rare an occurrence this is), perhaps Australian public transport companies are hoping that if delayed passengers feel they can put that wasted time to some use, then any consequent backlash won’t be so problematic.

Woolworths Virtual Store at Flinders Street Station, Melbourne

While Woolworths’ presence at Flinders Street station may be unassuming, hidden behind a low fence, people sitting on benches and a row of parked motorcycles, the supermarket giant is hoping its impact will be big.

Woolworths’ Virtual Store at Flinders Street Station, Melbourne
Product Wall at Woolworths’ Virtual Store at Flinders Street Station, Melbourne

The retailer’s reps manning the 4X1 metre set-up told PowerRetail the Flinders Street Station store will be operational for two weeks, after which time the product on shelves will be changed and rotated according to customer feedback and sales results via this channel.

PowerRetail was also told that once a shopper has downloaded the updated Woolworths app, the app can be used to scan barcodes on items at home or office in order to get a shopping list started to help facilitate online shopping via Woolworths.



12 thoughts on “Woolworths Launches First Virtual Australian Supermarket

  1. Interesting on a number of points that you raise. The use of QR codes, despite many pundits predicting their demise or “a solution looking for a problem”. Like a hammer, a QR Code is a tool which has to be used for the right purpose. It will be interesting to see Woolworth’s final assessment versus the barcode.

    You didn’t mention the payment system, surely a crucial step in acceptance in this environment?

    Re railways and retail the Japanese have excelled at this forever – most of their massive rail companies own and have developed huge retail complexes at the major termini e.g. Seibu Line or Meitetsu Line and not only that but coordinated bus and rail interchanges at these points.

    I see that Woolworths are coping a fair bit of flack – negative posts – at the Facebook site, I wonder how they are handling this launch in social media compared to calming the choppy waters in which they are sailing right now? See here http://pinterest.com/walteradamson/the-qantas-twitter-storm-that-didn-t-happen/

    Walter @adamson

    • Sean Kendrick
    • 20th February

    What do the ‘virtual stores’ actually look like? Are they just wi-fi hotspots? Or plastic futurist 2d placards bearing QR codes?

  2. Hi Walter and Sean,

    Thanks for stopping by the site.

    Firstly Walter, my understanding is as I’ve stated in the article, that the order is finalised and completed via the Woolworths’ online store – I assume the app takes you to this. So from memory, credit card and PayPal would be the payment options (it has been a few months since I’ve order online at Woolworths). However, I am hoping to stop by the Melbourne version tonight or tomorrow and to test it out, so I will update the article accordingly.

    Regarding Japan, I lived there for around six years and only know the wonderful transport and shopping systems, including use of NFC, smart cards, mobile commerce etc all too well! It really is something isn’t it? And you’re quite right in saying that a lot of the rail companies own and develop the station/mall complexes. I used to be able to roam entire parts of Osaka and Tokyo for kilometres on end, without seeing daylight. I will have a look at the Woolworths/Facebook link now.

    Sean, as far as I know, the stores are more of a branded, portable ‘pop up’ station, with some photos of the product are on shelves to still give some sort of a semblance of a real in store experience. Once I’ve been to the Melbourne virtual store, I will have some pics and video to post on the site.


  3. Woolworths are certainly not the first… what about Aussie Farmers Direct who supplies ONLY aussie grown and Aussie made and OnlyOz both are found on the http://www.BuyAustralianMade.com.au website.

  4. Hi Stephen,

    Do Aussie Farmers Direct have a virtual store? The article is talking about Woolworths’ potentially being the first Australian supermarket to have a ‘ virtual’, pop-up store that people can visit and shop from by scanning photos of products via their mobile phone. I’ve had a look at the website above and I couldn’t see anything that lead me to believe there is a virtual set-up anywhere.

    Thanks for your interest.


  5. Hi all,
    To fill you in on the actuals, we checked out the Sydney virtual store yesterday. It doesn’t actually use QR codes, but is an extension of their online shopping launch. The virtual store has images of actual products as if they are on the shelf and beneath each one is their conventional product barcode. You scan the barcode with the Woolworths app on your smartphone and can then add the product to your shopping list and proceed to online shopping to complete the purchase. Woolworths had 2 members of staff helping people scan the barcodes and telling you how to proceed to purchase – they were very knowledgeable and helpful.
    So, technically it is a very well branded ‘pop up virtual store’ with a limited number of items. The app can be used to scan any product in a real brick & mortar store or products in your pantry.

    Woolworths are certainly getting some good coverage for an interactive advertising billboard launching their online shopping app. Comments on their facebook page would suggest some consumers are a little confused by the offering! Personally, I found it useful for building the shopping list even if I don’t go on to order online!

  6. Given the battle between the two grocery giants right now, I’d say this has greater symbolic value than immediate ROI for Woolworths. It makes a statement that Woolies is looking to innovate (although this is by no means a first for supermarkets globally) and to stay ahead of the game. It wants to be seen to be trialling new ways for customers to engage and be easier to do business with – responding to the evolving needs of the connected consumer.

  7. It will be interesting to see how the online shopping venture goes.

  8. Nah, this was simply a gimic to get media attention to the real pitch which was lauched at the same time. The Woolworths App was the real story that allowed the user to shop online and with the built in barcode reader, the average punter could scan the barcodes on the display advertising. Note, there were no specials and products were full priced.

    Since this launch I have seen these display ads on bus stops as well.

    • sam
    • 8th April

    good article

    • Mary
    • 29th August

    The big stores are getting more and more dictatorial. I found I couldn’t buy 1/2 celery any more. What does one single person do with a huge big whole celery? I guess it goes to waste like so much food in the world these days. Back to the local small green grocers.

    • Greg tait
    • 7th May

    Whether you scan a wall or click a tab on a screen, – Its both a form of online shopping yeah?
    Isnt that what virtual shopping is?
    Nice marketing Woolies, Nice.


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