Augmented Reality: Beyond the Gimmick

Mikael Karlsson, mobile marketing manager for Volvo, shocked the audience at the 2012 Apps World conference when he described augmented reality as an overhyped marketing gimmick. Commenting that it could be “a great installation within retail stores” but is currently just a technically limited pipe dream. AR is a heavily discussed topic at the moment. Here at FORA, Dave Rodgerson touched upon the potential for AR within the store. And while Karlsson is correct that limited Internet connectivity and device functionality can hinder AR technology, what’s more often missing is correct context and that all-important incentive to purchase.

Despite predictions of consumers downloading more than 2.5 billion AR apps per year by 2017, a recent eBay study found that only a quarter of retailers plan to introduce AR within the next two years. Brands and retailers have a real opportunity to explore and gauge the potential applications that suit both the brand and the customer. So, how are retailers utilizing this technology to take it beyond an overhyped digital fad?

Seamless purchase

A consumer-need-driven implementation of augmented reality can provide a purposeful connection between physical and online shopping, as seen by global pure-play fashion retailer ASOS. In partnership with AR image-recognition technology company Aurasma, recipients of the brand’s monthly magazine can now use the ASOS Scan to Shop app to access additional video content, product information and to instantly click through to the mobile webpage to purchase, simply by using their smartphone camera to view specific pages.

Similarly, a clever AR campaign recently enabled Chinese retailer Yihaodian to open more than 1,000 transactional store locations in a single day, the only catch being that they were invisible to the naked eye. The location-based 3D renderings of shops were digitally anchored at iconic and otherwise unreachable locations throughout China, allowing for purchases with home delivery while walking along the Great Wall of China.

In-store extras

Karlsson is correct that AR can be used to enhance the retail environment, but the crucial element is to offer an incentive to make this worthwhile. In the U.S., Walmart has been driving footfall into stores since late year using AR, partnering with entertainment media companies such as Rovio, the games designers behind Angry Birds as well as Marvel comics. The collaborations turned the stores into integrated online and in-store gaming experiences, offering exclusive characters and levels which could only be unlocked using POS in store.

In East Asia, augmented reality coupon platform iButterfly is turning digital vouchers into store discount gameplay. Established since 2010, brands such as Adidas and The Bodyshop have created collectible virtual butterflies, viewable only through the iButterfly app and GPS tagged to the stores. Customers sighting a butterfly on screen can capture it using a flick of the phone. Each butterfly design holds a unique offer to be redeemed in-store.

So AR can be fantastic method to animate and incentivize purchases and create experiential location-driven experiences. Yes, most examples currently come with the added chore of an app to download, but until we can wear our technology on our sleeves there is no reason why retailers cannot create functional, innovative and monetary augmented reality experiences.

Gemma T Ball researches and writes about design, culture and consumer trends.


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