Front Row


By Jack Kenny, Contributing Editor | April 10, 2013

Does your label look good on a screen in a subway or airport?

Tomorrow is grocery shopping day. Usually I don’t mind the visits to the superdupermarket – yes, it is much larger than its 20th Century ancestor – but this week I’m too busy and would rather not make the schlep. Why can’t I shop virtually, browse the aisles in 3D on my screen? You’d think that by now someone would have made this happen.

Someone has. Tesco, the UK-based food store giant, is working on exactly what I need this week. A few months ago, Tesco announced that it is close to the launch of a 3D-rendered store that blends the online shopping experience with the actual shopping trip. The digital shopping experience places the viewer in the aisles of a graphically created store, whose shelves are fully stocked with all items that can be found in the analog supermarket. The shopper can navigate the aisles on-screen, pause before a product, examine its label, note the price, and choose whether or not to add it to the “basket.”

You can watch a video of this. Go to and type “store trek” into the search box. (Yes, they named it Store Trek, sorry to report. The accompanying music, however, is inspired by the theme of HBO’s Game of Thrones.) The video is produced not by Tesco but by Keytree, a British software company with a strong client base. As shown, the virtual store can appear on a home television screen; navigation of the aisles is accomplished by use of an Xbox Kinect. The aim of the video, which certainly scores a bullseye from where I sit, is to show the world what is now, or soon will be, possible. The groceries will, of course, be delivered to the customer’s home. That’s the point, isn’t it?

Tesco has some experience in the field of virtual stores. In the summer of 2011, Tesco Homeplus launched its first virtual store at a subway stop in Seoul, South Korea. Using the virtual display, people can scan the relevant bar code or QR code with their Homeplus app to order from the selection of products visible on the screen, and can arrange for home delivery within the same day. As of two months ago, more than 900,000 smartphone owners had downloaded the Homeplus app, making it the most popular shopping app in Korea. Homeplus reports that the majority of orders placed via the app are at 10 am and 4 pm, most likely by people going to or returning from work.

Does this evolution in the consumer experience bode well for those in the label and packaging industry? Yes. The products still will bear a label, and be sold in a container. The only big difference between this and the real store is that customers are not handling the products during the shopping trip (or dropping, spilling or breaking them).

To me it sounds like a win for all involved, except perhaps for the consumer, who will be paying extra for handling and delivery of the goods (and perhaps a small markup to cover the cost of creating and operating the technology). But the man and woman on the street are taking advantage of it, and Tesco is expanding the project.

One question I have is about the labels. On the screen, one sees virtual renderings of a front label. If I want to read the list of ingredients in a can of tomato sauce, or to learn how much sodium it contains, can I flip the image around to view the contents and the nutrition facts panel? I don’t think so.

Tesco’s adventure in South Korea has borne fruit. In February of this year, Homeplus announced that it will place its virtual stores in more than 20 bus stops throughout Seoul.

“The growing trend in smart phones in South Korea means that virtual grocery shopping is even more accessible and convenient than ever before,” says S.H. Lee, CEO of Tesco Homeplus. “The first virtual store in the Seoul subway was a great success with customers and has paved the way for the opening of these new stores at bus stops. We’ve found it most popular amongst 20 to 30 year olds, so the new stores will be opening close to a local university and other pedestrian areas.”

For two weeks last summer, Tesco brought its virtual store closer to home. The company set up an 80” tall screen with 80 products on display in a departure lounge at London’s Gatwick Airport to see if travelers made use of it. The thought behind the project was that the busy holiday traveler will get to the airport and, seeing the large screen, will realize that he gave no thought to meals upon return from the holiday, and surely the cupboard was bare at home. One blogger panned the idea, saying that (a) the trip to sunny Turkey consumed his thoughts, not returning home; (b) he couldn’t order from the kiosk because he didn’t have the required app, and (c) his wife had already scheduled a delivery of groceries upon their return. Tesco has not publicized the results of the Gatwick trial.
There is something necessary about touching the package, the label. If I see four competing brands of the product I want to buy and I’m not familiar with three of them, I will take each one off of the shelf and read everything on all sides. You can’t do that at a screen. I guess some folks don’t bother with my approach. Those 20 and 30 year olds.

It’s called mCommerce (pronounced em-commerce) and it is a vast and growing subset of eCommerce. M stands for mobile. Tesco may be at the forefront of mCommerce in the consumer retail segment, but there are many, many other ways to make use of mobile communication devices in business and manufacturing. Yes, even in the label business.

This should come as no surprise. One of the first label converters with a smart phone app was Lightning Labels, the all-digital printer in Denver, CO, USA. Since then, some others have joined the mParade, but it’s still a small group.

One of those who have embraced mCommerce is Creative Labels of Vermont (CLOV), a small converter in Burlington, VT, USA. In a recent blog post, CLOV asked this question: “Is a mobile website for your business really necessary?” The answer is yes. Read on.

“We think having a mobile website for your business is necessary! Read these statistics below about mobile devices, searches and mobile marketing and see if you agree.
• Google reports that 40 percent of all searches are presently being conducted on a mobile device.
• Mobile web use is growing eight times faster than initial internet use occurred, according to Eric Schmidt, Google CEO.
• Search engines rank businesses that offer both standard and mobile websites higher than those without the mobile-optimized version.
• The ability to compare prices, redeem special offers and make purchasing decisions on-the-go empowers consumers in ways that were not previously available, and it is reported that an overwhelming 70 percent subsequently and quickly make a purchase.

“Those are some pretty strong reasons for businesses to move into the mobile website marketplace, wouldn’t you say?
“Even if you’ve created a mobile app for your business, you also need an actual mobile website, because evidence is mounting that consumers prefer to go directly to your site, rather than interact via an app.

“Why? Each app is unique, meaning a learning curve for users, whereas mobile websites maintain a standard look that users are already familiar with, so they can jump right in without delay. Also, a mobile website can utilize SEO tactics that an app can’t, so if a user is searching for ‘fancy widgets,’ your mobile website can come up in those search results, and they can move directly to your site, rather than search for your fancy widget app buried somewhere in their device. (Out of site, out of mind!) Plus, only dedicated customers will have your app to start with … an effectively designed and optimized mobile website is available to everyone.”

The CLOV blog post goes on to recommend that the reader visit Hubspot and Mashable for education about mobile websites for business. (Visit

In a perfect world, I want to order a week’s worth of groceries from the 3D virtual food store, and then, while I’m on the treadmill working off the sedentary weight, I’ll order some labels from CLOV using my iPhone. That’s the beauty of mCommerce. I refuse, however, to stick my fork into a virtual meal.

The author is president of Jack Kenny Media, a communications firm specializing in the packaging industry, and is the former editor of L&NW magazine. He can be reached at
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