Tesco has unveiled new interactive digital billboards in the departure lounge at Gatwick Airport that allow consumers to order groceries to be delivered to them when they return from holiday.

Using Tesco’s iPhone and Android smartphone apps holidaymakers can add products to their shopping basket by scanning the barcodes displayed under the items on the adverts.

Sliding screens on each ‘fridge’ can be scrolled by hand allowing customers to browse and select around 80 of Tesco’s most popular products.

Deliveries can then be scheduled for up to three weeks in advance to coincide with the user's return home.

The use of interactive billboards in the UK follows a successful trial in South Korea’s subway. Commuters were able to purchase items from a virtual shopping aisle by scanning QR codes with their smartphone.

Since launching last year more than 55,000 transactions have been made using the display, helping Tesco to become South Korea’s number one online grocery retailer.

Tesco’s internet retailing director Ken Towle said the displays in Gatwick’s North Terminal were aimed at providing a convenient and simple shopping experience for its customers.

“E-commerce is increasingly important for our multichannel offering and this is about responding to the wider use of smartphones among our customers.”

16% of Tesco’s sales currently involve smartphones at some stage of the purchase journey while 8% come exclusively from mobile.

Towle said that the two-week trial is an experiment to see how customers react and he has an open mind as to what would constitute a success.

“As a business we plan to try out lots of new things to work out which are the good ideas and which ones customers want to use. We want to try and improve consumer access to Tesco using mobile.”

Tesco says that the virtual store is a first for the UK, but we have seen similar examples from both John Lewis and eBay.

In November last year John Lewis created a virtual store in a Waitrose shop window in Brighton to promote its Christmas range, while eBay opened a pop-up shop near London's Oxford Street that enabled consumers to buy products by scanning QR codes using their smartphones.

However both of those examples sold consumer goods and electronics rather than groceries.

Having trialled the display I can vouch for the fact that it is simple to use and recognises the barcodes almost instantly.

But personally I am dubious as to whether putting the display in an airport is necessarily going to drive a huge amount of sales.

In the few hours before I go on holiday the last thing I am thinking about is my shopping list for when I return home, but then Tesco says the trial is primarily aimed at busy parents who need to plan ahead.

Even so, it is likely that one of the main motivations behind the trial is to raise awareness of Tesco’s mobile apps and encourage people to download them while they’re looking for something to do in the hours before their flight.

To scan the barcodes you must first create a Tesco shopping account, so at the very least the retailer should gain a decent amount of consumer data during the trial.

David Moth

Published 7 August, 2012 by David Moth

David Moth is Editor and Head of Social at Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or connect via LinkedIn

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Comments (6)

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James Gurd

James Gurd, Owner at Digital JugglerSmall Business Multi-user

Hi David,

Interesting article.

I think you right that the primary goal is to raise awareness of Tesco's mobile apps, encourage greater usage & increase customer data. The Gatwick experiment could well be a loss leader, designed to get people using the service to kill a few minutes as they wait.

It could work well for delayed travellers, though I'm not sure how many people have the enthusiasm for doing a weekly shop when they're dealing with the annoyance of a long delay.

Still, interesting move after their Korea success, so if you hear of any results, please keep us updated.


almost 6 years ago

John Waghorn

John Waghorn, Content Marketer at Koozai Ltd

I saw this on the news recently, it’s an interesting concept. Although I’m not entirely sure it will take off. It’s amazing how far technology has come and what we now are able to do with Smartphones, although I wouldn’t be surprised if it doesn’t last.

I definitely think that people would try it to start off with because it’s a new form of technology and they want to say they’ve used it. It certainly does make it convenient, but you lose the social element by just staring at a ‘fridge’ full of images.

almost 6 years ago


Stephan Jaeckel

The shining LCD-screens will do their part in helping make people shop.

But I wonder about the processes behind this, i.e. if a customer is unhappy with the fresh fruits, vegetables he or she gets at check-out or through home-delivery. Meat you may still show on screen and have the specific piece packed or cut slices from it and packed. Might be true for fish, too. Thats though quite some effort, even if you show only pre-packed packages on screen. While it may be feasable to lower the price for the individual pre-packed piece fo meat that people skipped the most its still all about what happens after the selection.

Because its all about humans. What if the real piece of meat doesn't look like the one on screen in the eyes of the customer? How about the melon being too hard, the banana too soft, or whatsover that comes along with shopping for grocery.

While many may no longer care or simply not know how to identify freshness or ripeness of fruits or vegetables many people still do. And those not might actually get motivated to learn about these techniques out of sheer fear of being defrauded and getting the worse food compared to their more knowledgable peers.

Like all eBsuiness also this one is not about the front-end, its about the processes. And I cant not get rid of my doubts about them.......

almost 6 years ago



Apps are one of the major issues : not every traveller owns a smartphone, those who do don't necessarily know what an app is and how to go about installing it - might sound surprising in this forum but you may want to check IRL. The article mentions iPhone and Android, which also leaves out most corporate folks with their BB.

almost 6 years ago


Gavin Parkinson, Marketing and Sales Manager at Hitch Marketing Ltd

Interesting that Tesco chose a barcode scanner rather than QR codes; I'd love to know why!

almost 6 years ago

David Moth

David Moth, Managing Editor at Barclaycard

@Gavin, I think it's because the scanner sits within Tesco's existing app which shoppers could already use to scan products in-store. So by using the same barcodes on the digital ads they didn't have to upgrade the app at all.

almost 6 years ago

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