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The next time your spouse asks you to pick up the groceries on your way home for work, you won't have to do nearly as much work if your daily commute happens to take you through the State and Lake Station Tunnel in Chicago.

That's because internet grocer Peapod has launched a "virtual grocery store" to the location which lets commuters buy products from brands like Coca-Cola, Procter & Gamble and Kimberly Clark using their mobile phones.

Peapod's press release explains how it works:

iPhone/iPad and Android users simply scan a QR code to download a free PeapodMobile app  on the spot and start shopping by scanning the bar codes of the products featured in the ads. Commuters can get orders started on the platform, manage shopping lists and schedule deliveries – for next day or even several days or weeks in advance—during their train rides to or from the office.

Peapod calls the aforementioned ads a "tunnel takeover" and for good reason; the ads literally wrap the tunnel walls, creating a virtual grocery shelf for commuters to peruse.

According to Peapod, the average Chicagoan spends more than an hour commuting to and from work each day, making Chicago an ideal location for its attention-grabbing initiative. To entice the large number of passers-by into making a purchase, the retailer is offering a $20 coupon to first-time shoppers as well as 60 days of free delivery on subsequent orders.

Peapod, which ran a similar campaign in Philadelphia, isn't the first to create a virtual grocery store for commuters. As The Verge points out, Homeplus, Tesco's South Korean affiliate, decided to take advantage of the smartphone penetration in that country with a similar subway-based initiative last October.

It's a trend that has grown since. From John Lewis and Glamour to Argos and PayPal, using mobile phones and QR codes to drive online commerce through physical venues is proving to be a concept that companies can get behind. The question, of course, is whether these efforts will ever be more than headline-grabbers.

The bad news is that QR codes are still an unknown quantity. According to a study conducted late last year, two-thirds of consumers don't know what QR codes are. Another study found that only 19% of UK consumers had ever scanned a QR code. On the other hand, if major brands continue to invest in high-profile QR code-based campaigns like Peapod's, it would be logical to expect QR code recognition and use to increase significantly over time

When that happens, these campaigns may be able to go from novelties to real revenue-drivers. Until then, they certainly make for an interesting sight.

Patricio Robles

Published 8 May, 2012 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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