WAKAYAMA, Feb. 19 – It turns your smartphone into a farmers’ market. A local agricultural cooperative in Wakayama Prefecture (JA Kinosato) has started offering a virtual tour of Mekkemon Hiroba, its local farmers’ market in Kinokawa City, Wakayama Prefecture. It allows online customers to enjoy shopping as if they are actually in the market. Distant and elderly shoppers who can’t easily visit the market can virtually walk around and find something new and attractive from the rich lineup of agricultural products in the market. That way, it can also create a new demand.
The virtual reality (VR) service is accessible via smartphones and personal computers. The users can move freely in the virtually reproduced market, looking around and seeing the products and point-of-purchase displays. By tapping on a product, they can open a pop-up explanation to read flavor characteristics and best seasons before purchasing the product at the online store. JA Kinosato will alter the reproduced store displays with the seasons.
The idea of the virtual market walk came out amid the Covid-19 crisis. Being one of Japan’s large and best-selling JA-run markets, the Mekkemon Hiroba has many visitors, more than half, from other prefectures and cities like Osaka City. When the Japanese government issued a state of emergency in 2020, it had to close the market during the golden week (a series of holidays in April and May in Japan), and its agricultural product sales dropped. On the other hand, it received a lot of inquiries for the products for thank-you gifts for Japan’s hometown tax programs, and orders from distant places such as the Kanto region increased.
“We want people who are too far or too old to come can also experience the joy of choosing their favorite agricultural products at the store. That way, we want to create stable sales as well,” Yoshikazu Okada, JA’s direct sales office manager, said.
The JA took pictures of every store detail and created the virtual tour program in collaboration with a venture company in Ishikawa Prefecture. It plans to add functions to show producers’ comments and pictures of the farms and fishing ports in the future.
The VR market is placed on the Mekkemon Hiroba website.