Commuters walk by a new billboard at the Farmindgale LIRR...

Commuters walk by a new billboard at the Farmindgale LIRR station promoting Peapod, an online grocery delivery service. (Oct. 19, 2012) Credit: Danielle Finkelstein

An online grocer is making it possible for some commuters to do their weekly shopping at a Long Island Rail Road station.

Peapod, an Illinois-based Internet grocery service, recently launched billboards that act as "virtual grocery stores" at 13 LIRR stations in order to promote use of its mobile smartphone app.

The train station billboards feature photos of common grocery store items, each with a QR -- quick response -- code. Customers scan the codes of the items they want using the Peapod app on a smartphone, place the order and receive the items at a set time later at their home.

Customers do not need the billboards' codes to order through the mobile app, but the process is a fun and interactive way to get the consumer used to smartphone shopping, Peg Merzbacher, the director of marketing for Peapod, said Friday.

"What we're trying to do is visually give this idea that you can grocery shop in the train station . . . but not necessarily by scanning the 50 items" on the billboard, she said.

Mobile shopping is growing at a much faster rate than Internet shopping did when it first started because of the convenience factor, said Marshal Cohen, chief retail analyst with the NPD Group, a Port Washington-based market research firm.

About 38 percent of cellphone owners use their phones to shop or browse products, according to a 2011 study from the Jay H. Baker Retailing Center at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.

The inspiration to use the billboards came from a similar strategy that United Kingdom-based supermarket chain Tesco used in South Korea, Merzbacher said.

Peapod tested the billboards in Chicago and Philadelphia earlier this year before launching the virtual stores in train stations in Washington, D.C., New Jersey, Connecticut and New York on Oct. 5. Last week, Peapod's app downloads were up about 30 percent compared to the week before the launch, Merzbacher said. Peapod requires a $60 minimum order and charges a $9.95 delivery fee for orders under $100. Orders over $100 have a $6.95 fee. Groceries are provided through Stop & Shop.

The LIRR stations that feature Peapod billboards are Babylon, Bethpage, Deer Park, Farmingdale, Glen Cove, Kings Park, Long Beach, Massapequa, Port Washington, Rockville Centre, Ronkonkoma, Stony Brook and Syosset. The billboards will remain in the stations for the next three months.

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