By Ariel Schwartz
Vacant lots are the bane of cities everywhere. Some deal with the issue by letting urban gardeners run wild. Others simply hope for the best. In China, the country's biggest food e-commerce site is promoting another option: turning vacant lots into virtual stores.
Chinese e-commerce site YiHaoDian is launching 1,000 virtual supermarkets across the country--but don't expect to find any brick and mortar landmarks. All the stores, launched in late 2012, can only be seen with the YiHaoDian iPhone and Android app. Anyone using the app can see the 1,200 square meter stores on their phones if they're holding it up in the right location--and purchase up to 1,000 food products that can be delivered in one to two days. All of the shops are located in vacant lots in what the company deems iconic areas of Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou and Shenzhen.
The idea isn't entirely new. In the U.K, Tesco launched a lower-tech version where customers could choose from virtual products by snapping pictures of QR codes found in subway stations. But YiHaoDian's augmented reality approach has larger implications.
As Pop Up City explains, "The idea of using dead urban spaces as retail areas, while avoiding any building and personnel costs sounds like a promising one."
In space-challenged China, the stores have another benefit: they could reduce urban sprawl by replacing real stores with virtual ones.
Copyright 2013 by Fast Company. Reprinted with permission.