Courtesy of Peapod

Virtual supermarkets may be coming soon to a transit station near you.

People do any number of things while waiting on the platform for the next subway or commuter train. Some pre-walk to position themselves at the best station exit for their destination. Some just mindlessly pace. The ones who used to look down the track every few moments for the next train now look at the digital arrival times every few moments instead. Some take pictures of rats.

And, as of earlier this month, some Philadelphians have been able to shop for groceries. The online grocer Peapod introduced virtual storefronts at select SEPTA stations throughout the city. While awaiting a train, users can download the Peapod app, peruse the items in front of them, and scan the barcode of anything they'd like to purchase. The groceries are delivered to their homes later that day.

Philly marks the idea's American debut, but a number of international cities already have similar services. Woolworths has placed virtual storefronts at the Town Hall Station in Sydney, Australia, and displays from British retailer Tesco were installed last year in South Korea. If three is a trend, you just got trended.

So far, Tesco's storefronts are the most impressive of the bunch. While Peapod's displays will be stuck on traditional advertising boards, Tesco has filled multiple panels of platform doors with its digital supermarket aisles. The company reports that online sales in Korea are up 130 percent since the storefronts were implemented. Here's a look at Tesco virtual shoppers in action:

(One perplexing thing about the displays is that multiple items of the same product are offered. Verisimilitude is clearly the aim here, but it still kind of seems like a waste of space. Would you rather choose between the same exact two pretend Nestle Quik bottles, or ditch one to make room for a phantom Bosco? Unless of course the milks have different expiration dates; in which case, criticism withdrawn.)

Peapod operates in 24 U.S. cities, so success in Philadelphia could theoretically mean expansion to places like Chicago, New York, and Washington, D.C. Of course there are some problems to address. On subway-heavy transit systems like New York's, Internet connection is spotty or non-existent (though more stations are getting wired everyday). Finding space for the storefronts might also be challenging. American cities don't have the platform doors that Tesco appears to use in South Korea. That leaves wall space, much of which is already occupied by existing advertisers or system maps.

On the plus side, it opens up a world of opportunity for wags to use the phrase "express line."

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. Design

    Cities Deserve Better Than These Thomas Heatherwick Gimmicks

    The “Vessel” at New York’s Hudson Yards—like so many of his designs—look as if the dystopian world of 1984 has been given a precious makeover.

  2. Homes in Amsterdam are pictured.
    Equity

    Amsterdam's Plan: If You Buy a Newly Built House, You Can't Rent It Out

    In an effort to make housing more affordable, the Dutch capital is crafting a law that says anyone who buys a newly built home must live in it themselves.

  3. Transportation

    China's 50-Lane Traffic Jam Is Every Commuter's Worst Nightmare

    What happens when a checkpoint merges 50 lanes down to 20.

  4. A photo of U.S. senators and 2020 Democratic Party hopefuls Cory Booker and Kamala Harris
    Equity

    Cory Booker and Kamala Harris Want a Monthly IRS Tax Credit for Rent

    The 2020 Democratic Party hopefuls are both planning bills that would create a tax credit for housing rental assistance every month. How would that work?

  5. North Carolina's legislature building.
    Life

    Should Government Agencies Move Out of Capital Cities?

    North Carolina may relocate its Division of Motor Vehicles from Raleigh to boost lagging Rocky Mount. Can this be a national model for decentralizing power?