The Woolworths virtual store is not the future of retail. But it is a good PR stunt

virtual_vegemite_woolworthsSo last night I dropped by my local neighbourhood Virtual Woolworths.

It’s located at Sydney Town Hall station – conveniently enough, almost directly underneath my local neighborhood Real Woolworths.

As you’ll see from the wobbly iPhone video I shot, it was a relatively lonely experience. But it was Sunday night.

The concept is that the consumer downloads the Woolworths iPhone or Android app, then scans the barcodes on the pictures of the products they want before later having their order delivered at home.

woolworths_virtual_iphone_sausagesFirst, let’s get the cynical side of this out of the way.

As anyone who was at the Cannes Lions will tell you, it’s a direct borrowing from Cheil Worldwide’s South Korean work for Tesco.

But, that’s fair enough. Creative agency M&C Saatchi and media agency Mitchells aren’t attempting to claim any glory here – they weren’t even mentioned in the initial Woolies press release.

The release only describes it as an Australian first, by the way.

My bigger reservation about the concept – which I also had with the Korean original – is simply that it’s not a genuine business innovation. The choice is too limited for it to accommodate consumers’ normal shopping habits. With just a handful of panels at Town Hall, that’s even more the case.

After going out of my way to look at this last night, it was still easier to go upstairs to do my shopping in the real Woolworths (well, Coles, if truth be told) afterwards.

Also when it’s busy, it’ll be too packed to make use of. And when it’s quiet, there are no customers.

Nonetheless, this was still a worthwhile exercise.

First, when was the last time you saw Woolworths rather than Coles setting the marketing agenda?

Second – and this we’ll only know about if Woolworths later releases data – it may tempt a few more people to download the brand’s shopping app.

But mostly, this works as a pure play PR stunt. A handful of out of home panels does not usually get media coverage, yet this is already doing so.

The Seven News bulletin is not to be sneezed at.

And I’m sure there’s been plenty more coverage I’ve not yet seen.

This is not the future of shopping. But it is a nifty bit of PR.

Tim Burrowes


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