Chinese Start-Up Brings VR Experience to High-End Food

    Coolhobo founder Loic Kobes hopes to give specialty food retailers a chance to tap into China's digitally savvy market.
    Coolhobo uses its AR app to push interactivity into high-end brick and mortar BLT stores in China. (Courtesy Photo)

    Ahead of eShop Talk Asia, which runs from May 22-24, we sat down with Loic Kobes, CEO of start-up Coolhobo, to talk about the changing landscape of the high-end food market.

    It wasn't that long ago that Chinese consumers had to travel to the other side of the globe to pick up a bottle of Chateau Lafite-Rothschild. Now, not only can shoppers pick up wine and cheese at local stores but the market for premium foods, wine, and spirits in China has grown to such an extent that many high-end markets offer dedicated catering to maturing Chinese tastes. Coolhobo 胡罗舶 founder and CEO Loic Kobes is taking this trend a step further making the specialty food shopping experience more accessible and convenient by bringing it into the living rooms of Chinese consumers.

    Coolhobo is a Shenzhen-based start-up dedicated to using the latest trends in tech to help retailers and importers of culinary products engage digitally savvy young foodies in China. The company started out by offering a subscription-based delivery service, but has since pivoted toward marrying augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) to the online foodie experience. The platform itself is still in its testing phase, but the tech company is seeking angel investors as it continues to expand.

    Recent years have seen numerous experiments with VR and AR in the e-commerce space in China. Alibaba teamed up with phone maker HTC last year so it could bring its VR commerce Buy+ platform to mobile shoppers in China, while Alipay adopted AR technology for a hongbao campaign during Chinese New Year. And with 4G mobile phone users in China expected to reach 1 billion by 2020, VR and AR implementation may soon be standard practice.

    “We have the young, technologically educated consumer that is interested in trying new experiences,” Florian Garrigues, head of operations at Coolhobo, said. “They use e-commerce on a daily basis, but that doesn’t give them a new experience or lifestyle. So we are giving them a chance to be able to have an online shopping experience that is even better than offline.”

    The key with Coolhobo, Garrigues said, is that it focuses on engaging the consumer so that they keep coming back. To get to this point took some experimentation—before, they worked directly with brands to create content-based experiences (think trying a wine while you're wearing a headset that puts you in the virtual winery), but found it wasn't engaging the consumer long-term. On the other hand, applications like discounts and gamification in AR might create an experience that will encourage consumers to return for more.

    Coolhobo is intended to work in two modes: the AR mode and the VR mode. In AR, shoppers at participating specialty food retailers can discover products that aren't physically in the store, get information about the products, and play games to receive coupons and discounts.

    “We literally blow their minds, though, when they go home because they can continue their shopping experience with VR,” Kobes said. “You can do it in your living room or bedroom—a safe environment. Online, it doesn’t look like a supermarket anymore. They can choose their environment, they can choose their merchandising and interact with shopping advisers, they can pick products, view them from any angle, learn more about them, and add them to their shopping cart to complete their experience. At the marketplace, the receiver will directly deliver their products to their customers.”

    Coolhobo's first major partners in China are high-end supermarket chains Ole' and BLT, which stock a large selection of imported products, including wine, organic foods, and specialty foods. Kobes said the partnership “gives us access to already quite a big market." But the plan is to eventually expand to other e-commerce venues, as well as brick-and-mortar stores in second- and third-tier cities.

    Kobes and Garrigues will be in Hong Kong speaking about how brands can implement their own VR strategies for eShop Talk Asia, which takes place from May 22 to 24, and covers the fast-changing movements in the e-commerce industry in Asia. For more information on the event, click here.

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