Are you ready to buy with a QR code or NFC tag?


I initially stumbled onto the Walmart toy display by accident. It was Nov 5th, and I was barely recovering from receiving my coffee from Starbucks in a Christmas cup. I still had a burnt out pumpkin on my deck from Halloween. And I wasn’t even IN Walmart at the time, so let’s call it an “unprovoked attack” of holiday marketing. I’ve only brought myself to write about it now, being officially past Remembrance Day and Black Friday south of the border, and now at a time when some consumers can actually contemplate Christmas.

All the preamble aside, the virtual shopping display was intriguing. Walmart has set up a photo image display that looks just like a toy isle right in the middle of Waterfront Station transit terminal. It’s an area that is a hub of pedestrian activity with lots of smart phone totting people coming and going. What makes the photo toy display unique is the QR code application turning it into a virtual shopping display, where customers can scan the code and actually buy the toy on the spot and have it delivered to their home.

I first saw this concept used by Tesco and Home Plus in South Korea, where they created a virtual grocery store in a subway station. Pedestrians could scan and purchase milk, eggs, produce and pretty much anything they might need to stock up on, quickly and easily with their smart phone while waiting for the next train to arrive. Their groceries would be delivered to their home that evening. Click here for a video tour of that application:

In Russia, electronics retailer Media Markt piloted “shopping walls” at a Moscow subway station. 18 columns were decorated with posters designed to look like shelves at the store. All products displayed had a price, NFC tag and QR code. When customers tapped the NFC tag or QR code they were redirected to the companies mobile website to place the order. They could either pick it up at the store or have it delivered. NFC (near field communication) tags are a little less known than QR codes, and they don’t require a special reader or app. The NFC reader can be activated in the settings menu of a smart phone. According to Juniper, about 20% of phones worldwide will have NFC capabilities by 2014 so obviously this is leading edge, but NFC tags could one day become as commonplace as barcodes. The Moscow Transportation Commission ensured free wifi in the station as well. And it would appear that the wifi actually worked, unlike when the TTC in Toronto experimented with QR code shopping displays, and realized that their system was truly underground with very limited internet access in many of the scanning areas! View the Moscow example: Warning: the audio is in Russian, but you’ll get the idea through the video images!

Back in Vancouver, the curious thing with the Walmart toy installation was how it was garnering attention. I saw numerous people pull out their smart phones, but it wasn’t to scan a QR code, it was to take a photo to share the idea with friends. It may be a more effective publicity stunt than actual sales driver, although I expect there will be some takers, since according to their ad agency, Brand-Fire Marketing Group, the installation is now in its second year. QR codes in general are still a bit of a mystery to many. While getting a QR code reader APP is easy, and in theory a clever way to link customers easily to any web address – purchase check out, video or reviews, the promise of a groundswell movement by marketers is yet to materialize. However, the choice of busy pedestrian locations in cities with high smart phone penetration, is testament to pushing creative digital and mobile media marketing boundaries.

The virtual toy store installation is in partnership with Mattel and is appearing in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal markets. An ad campaign accompanied the initiative, with targeted mobile and desktop digital ads, print advertising and in-store signage at Walmart.




Mary Charleson


  1. Thank you so much for posting this article as it means a lot to me. My MBA thesis is about the Virtual store concept at SkyTrain stations in Vancouver. I missed this news as I was in India for last two months. Now, I know where to find the participants for my survey.

    • Glad you found it helpful Arun. I don’t know how long the installation will be there. It went up around Nov 5. You might assume it will be there until Christmas, but I have no idea. You might want to contact Walmart or Mattel, especially if it’s important to you to have it still up and visible during your research. Good luck!

Leave a Reply to Mary Charleson Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Featured on


Subscribe to Mary’s Weekly
Five-Minute Marketing Tips.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.