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Most people don’t linger on subway platforms, especially in a place as frenetic as Seoul. But at the city’s Seonreung station this morning, commuter A.J. Kim is letting more than one train come and go. After all, she’s too busy grocery shopping.
This past August, in a bid to bring new customers to its online store, grocery chain HomePlus began pasting up life-size photos of supermarket shelves at this subway station in downtown Seoul. What better place to display its wares, the company figured, than in a transit system that sees 5.6 million people every day?
The virtual supermarket, featuring 500-some popular items ranging from spaghetti to kimchi, is made of attractively lit billboards pasted around the station. When Kim points her smart-phone at an image of a milk carton, the price appears onscreen, accompanied by a ding. With a touch of her manicured finger, she adds the half-liter to her order, and — just like that — her task is completed. “After work, I don’t have the energy for shopping and cooking,” Kim says. “So I’m doing one of them now.” Her purchases will be delivered to her home this evening, she says as she hops on the next train.
Since the billboards debuted, HomePlus has seen a 130 percent jump in web sales and has become the No. 1 online grocery seller in South Korea. Still, it’s clear this new approach to shopping is in its infancy: The virtual shelves seem to be ignored by most travelers, who rush past them on the way to work.
Most, but not all. A baseball glove cleverly placed on a bottom shelf doesn’t escape the notice of a little boy. He leads his mother by the hand to the picture and begins whining. Just as she would in any store, she shakes her head and pulls him away. —CHANEY KWAK
ILLUSTRATION BY PETER OUMANSKI