Augmented reality: A growing force in retail

Oct. 5, 2012 | by Natalie Gagliordi

As technology continues to advance, so too does the way society uses it. From the digital revolution to the era of the smartphone — there is little left untouched to appease the Luddites. And retail is no exception.

Retail technology has been exploding in the past decade, with one particular sector making huge strides in the last few years. Augmented reality, or AR, is gaining speed as more and more retailers embrace the concept.

Augmented reality is a term for a live direct or an indirect view of a physical, real-world environment whose elements are augmented by sensory input, such as sound or graphics. When used in a retail setting, shoppers have the opportunity to experience rich and informative content that comes to life through their smartphones or tablets, often facilitating or simplifying the purchasing process. It's also a way to help brick-and-mortar stores adapt to a world in which online shopping is making it more difficult for them to attract customers and make a profit. 

Mainstream support for AR is expanding too, with IBM announcing in July that it is testing an augmented reality shopper app. According to an IBM infographic, there is a significant business opportunity in the technology. With 92 percent of retail volume still taking place in-store and 58 percent of consumers wanting to get product information while in-store, properly implemented AR can be extremely effective at increasing sales.

Recently there have been some unique examples of retailers implementing AR. The Isaac Mizrahi New York app, spearheaded in a joint effort between Aurasma and Xcel Brands, brings printed Mizrahi brand content to life in the form of videos and animation.

Aurasma uses image and pattern recognition technology to identify real-world images and objects. It then blends the real-world with interactive content animations called Auras, which can be created for printed images, product packaging, clothing or physical locations. With the Mizrahi app, a shopper downloads it for free and can then use the viewfinder on their smartphone camera to unlock the hidden content.

"AR is about making the process to buy a lot more convenient," said Matt Mills, the head of global partnerships and innovation at Aurasma. "Retailers are increasingly becoming multichannel. They need customers to interact."

Mills explained how Aurasma's AR platform is taking off, recently announcing at New York's advertising week that the company hit the milestone of 10,000 partnerships since its 2011 launch. Some recent high-profile partnerships include Kellogg's, which is using the technology to augment more than 80 million cereal boxes across the U.S.; Taylor Swift, who is using Aurasma to support her Wonderstruck fragrance campaign; and the Rolling Stones and Universal Music, whose Aurasma-enabled uView app is being used in a large-scale AR campaign, spanning 50 cities around the world and more than 3,000 augmented locations.

There is an especially interesting aspect of the Aurasma platform — they offer it to clients for free.

"As long as we think what you are doing is cool, we will do it for free," Mills said. "So naturally, the ROI for clients is phenomenal."

But given the success of the platform, the freebies won't last forever. "In the future we will build a pay-per-click," he said.

AR gets a bit more risqué at U.K. lingerie chain Ann Summers. The retailer launched the BlippTease app, which uses Blippar's AR technology to deliver a virtual dressing room experience. It works in a similar manner to other smartphone AR, by using the phone's camera to scan and recognize pre-programmed elements. The app lets the user select an image of a lingerie set they are considering for purchase, which they then superimpose over a picture of themselves.

According to Stuart Nugent, brand copywriter for Ann Summers, the campaign has been met with positive feedback from younger customers who tend to be more digitally engaged and more technologically literate.

"The Try Me On element has seen particularly positive uptake, simply because it's a lot of fun as well as genuinely useful," Nugent said. "That's a powerful combination for an apparel retailer."

And it is the younger, generally tech savvier group that could hold the key to the success and acceptance of AR. According to Nugent, AR fit in with the Ann Summers brand because the customers are well-connected, young and fluent in technology — and becoming more fluent all the time.

"The future of augmented reality, for me personally, lies in offering potential customers much more valuable information about the products they're viewing that's more relevant to them individually," Nugent said. "In short, the future of augmented reality is a contradictory one: It will use very sophisticated technology to simplify the shopping experience."

Photo provided by Turkletom.

Read more about retail technology.

Topics: Augmented Reality , In-Store Media , Marketing , Technology

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