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Wal-Mart about to invade Toronto bus stops

Wal-Mart Canada introduces mobile stores inside 50 Toronto bus shelters

There are only so many hours in a day so why not spend it shopping, especially while you're waiting for the bus? That's what Wal-Mart Canada and Procter & Gamble are hoping you'll do by launching mobile stores inside 50 Toronto bus shelters this week.

When it comes to e-commerce, it's a pretty clever idea and solid way of trying to offer extra value to consumers in a retail landscape that is expected to heat up fast.

Here's the idea: customers can use their mobile devices to scan posters with QR-codes at certain bus shelters to buy select items including Pantene shampoo, Pampers diapers and Tide detergent and have the goods delivered to their homes for free. The campaign will last four weeks.

Here's why it's a pretty good idea: Look around at any bus shelter or bus stop. Chances are a good chunk of people are surfing the Internet during this idle time anyway. The virtual stores are also featured in densely-populated, urban locations where shoppers wouldn't normally access a physical store. In this regard, it's also a targeted way of luring new customers.

Since consumers are typically pressed for time, this is one way of adding value, Simon Rodrigue, vice president of e-commerce for Wal-Mart Canada, said in a statement. "This campaign allows us to help Torontonians shop for essentials on the go, anywhere, at any time."

Social media crucial for retailers

Social media is now part of daily life for many Canadians. With more competition for market share and U.S. retailers like Target and Nordstrom entering the Canadian market, companies need strategies that allow them to connect with customers directly online while still providing a seamless in-store experience, consultancy and accounting firm PwC said earlier this year in a report that sought to demystify 10 key myths around multi-channel retailing.

It found social media is not yet taking over in-store shopping, but integrated strategies to entice shoppers will be crucial and that is precisely what the bus shelter venture does.

"What we used to have before is, here is something we have on sale; please come to our store and buy it. Now what we're saying is we have this product on sale; buy it right this instant," says David Elsner, manager, retail consulting services at PwC. "That cash register is in their hand. They can make that purchase."

The PwC report, released in January, showed 42 per cent of Canadians use social media such as Facebook and Twitter at least once a day, while an additional 17 per cent use these channels once a week, but only 7 per cent of these consumers are using social platforms to shop. Still, many people say they use social platforms to follow their favourite brands.

The hurdles are high given the concept is pretty much unchartered territory.

"One question that comes up with these things is the economics of home delivery," says David Soberman, professor and Canadian national chair of strategic marketing at the Rotman School of Management.

In the past, online shopping has enticed those consumers sitting at their desks at home to pull out their wallets by offering lower prices, which in the end squeezed retailers due to the high cost of home delivery. This venture is slightly different in that it's playing on an important need for convenience, and could mean consumers will pay a little bit more for that.

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