There are two interesting news recently about two “innovative retail stores” opening in China. First, largest local delivery service company SF Experess launched so called “virtual shopping” convenience chain stores nationwide. Second, retailer Shopin collaborated with Wechat and experimented with “Wechat Concept Store” in Hangzhou.

Retail innovation in China, sometimes wins more Boo than Wow

Whether “virtual shopping convenience store” or “Wechat Concept Store”, they are very fancy ideas; nevertheless when fancy ideas are put into reality context, they do not necessarily work like a charm.

First let us talk about SF Express’s virtual shopping convenience store.


Virtual shopping” means all the purchasable products are just the images on the wallpaper, on touch screen or ipad inside store. You scan the QR codes, do the payment then wait for goods to be delivered to your home later on. In addition, their plan includes virtual fitting for apparel in the convenience store…and much more surrounding the idea of “community O2O service”


Hold on, suddenly I have several question marks popping up in my head:

I)Convenience store shopping is mostly about quick purchase of a bottle of beverage, a bar of chocolate etc, so why do I need them to be virtual and not getting them instantly?

II)The product selection on the wallpaper must be limited, so why do I bother paying visit to such convenience store, rather than simply doing online shopping on my computer?

III)Virtual fitting for apparel? Seriously, do I truly want to buy dress in a convenient store? Virtual fitting helps me to narrow down 2-3 my favorite items, but in the end, to buy the one, I still prefer trying the real piece on my body for a 360 degrees overview, but inside convenience store, all the goods are simply virtual, gee…

Many local journalists went to store to have further investigation and their feebacks are often negative. Issues can be:

  1. The price of the virtual goods are more expensive than those on conventional e-commerce site like Taobao, Tmall
  2. Lack of shopping ambiance; especially the store is poorly decorated
  3. Staff in the store are inadequately trained to generate sales

Next what about that Shopin “Wechat Concept Store” in Hangzhou?

Actually I have never heard of Shopin before, Its background is:

It is both an offline and online department store founded in 2000, based in Beijing. They have major offline presence in Beijing and north region of China.

I actually made a phone call to the store and tried to get more ideas. According to its staff, Hangzhou is Shopin's very first brick&mortar store in east region of China, of course the very first wechat concept store as well, and they are planning to open additional 2 such stores within this year in Hangzhou. The goal is collaborating Tencent to push and promote wechat mobile payment in offline stores in China.

When I asked them over the phone:

Aside from Wechat payment, can you think of any other features/services which can attract customers to your shop?”


Sorry, maybe just wechat payment…”

Local media also gave mixed comments about “Wechat concept store”. Typical problems occurred inside stores are:

  1. Low internet speed, cannot login Wifi
  2. Troubles in scan QR codes prices for the product
  3. Often take about more than 10 minutes to finish wechat payment for the purchase and customer feel conventional payments i.e. cash, bank cards…are lot quicker
  4. Not many nice products inside the store and the prices are not essentially good bargain.

So on so forth


Retail innovation ultimately aims to the betterment and efficiency of our daily life, sometimes however, in China we rush breathlessly to retail innovation just for the sake of retail innovation without clear thoughts.

In the past 2 years, I witnessed the emergence of retail startups such 3D online shopping mall Kxtkx, visual search e-commerce site Pixcoo, or Yihaodian(China’s largest online supermarket) toyed with virtual shopping in metro station and its augmented reality virtual store on mobile, they all stirred sparks, but soon dimmed and even diminished without a trace.

While retail innovation does take time to reach maturity, big company if truly aspires to be aggressive and become the industry leader, do make sure when customers walk into your innovative store, the experience would excite their “WOW” moment, not a “Boo”.

By Cécilia Wu
English & Chinese Editorial Manager