In the 2003 documentary Living With Michael Jackson, the late King of Pop was filmed shopping for art and furniture in a Las Vegas store, pointing at things he liked and walking out, leaving his handlers to settle the bill. Now, a startup in Japan is trying to make that retail experience a reality for everyone. Primoâ€™s app lets users skip the checkout line by using their smartphones. A scan of a QR code instantly completes a purchase. The eight-person startup is betting that businesses will sign up for the service. Since debuting in October, Primo has attracted 90 merchants in Japan, including a craft chocolate maker, the preferred tea brand of Japanâ€™s imperial family and high-end audio-equipment maker Bang & Olufsen.
â€œYou donâ€™t have to be a billionaire to shop like this,â€ said Abasa Phillips, founder of Tokyo-based Primo Inc. â€œ A lot of companies are working on optimizing the register, but the problem is the 10- to 15-minute wait before the purchase.â€ While it may seem like online shopping is taking over retail these days, e-commerce is still just a fraction of in-store sales, accounting for less than 10 percent of merchandising in the US That fact hasnâ€™t been lost on Amazon.com Inc., which in December unveiled a concept store that will let shoppers grab groceries and leave without having to go through a checkout line or scan them at all.
Primo argues that its QR tags are cheaper and easier to deploy, and can be read by any smartphone camera. While QR codes arenâ€™t that common in the US and Europe, they are everywhere in Japan, China and other parts of Asia. Promoted by Tencent Holdings Ltd.â€™s WeChat messenger, the tags were quickly picked up by the countryâ€™s tech giants Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. and Baidu Inc., used for everything from sharing contacts to paying for taxi rides. â€œMost tech companies tend to want to use the newest thing out there, so they kind of skipped over this use case for QR codes,â€ Phillips said at an interview at the companyâ€™s office in Harajuku, Tokyoâ€™s youth fashion district. â€œYou really see the potential in China, where every store, every product and every business card has a QR code on it.â€