Augmented Reality – the future of online retail?

Inspired by the recent Becks Green box project event I attended, it got me thinking about the wider effects of augmented reality for online retailers and the way this could shape and change online and offline shopping habits in the very near future.

So firstly what is Augmented Reality?

Augmented Reality (AR) is a term for a live direct or indirect view of a physical, real-world environment (such as a camera on a mobile phone) whose elements are augmented by computer-generated sensory input such as sound, video, graphics or GPS data.

Traditionally this technology has been used to overlay information such as maps, venue locations or event information either accessed through a mobile device or webcam. Due to recent innovations in scanning technology, real objects and people can now be scanned and placed into AR apps. This gives the ability to have, for example, three dimensional images of objects placed into a room.

With enhancements in technology such as smart phones and tablets, AR has evolved dramatically and can now be accessed anywhere, having previously been confined to desktop PC and webcams. This means users can have AR experiences almost anywhere; this improvement in mobile technology has opened up AR to the rest of reality.

So what’s the impact of this for retailers and how can AR be integrated into their marketing campaigns?

One of the biggest hurdles for online retailers is allowing their customers to get a real sense of what the product looks like, how it will feel, the size, shape and colour of the product. Current methods for display take on two forms, photography and video. Both great in their own right but rarely replace the in store experience of seeing the product first hand.

With great advancements in AR technology we now have the ability to scan anything from products to people to produce 3D photo-realistic models. Customers can then view these models from any angle giving them as close to the in-store experience as possible from their own home! Combining this with AR apps means a customer can simply print a marker directly from the retailers website or tear off a marker from a magazine and download the app. Placing the marker in their home and viewing it with the app they will be able to see what the product would look like, to scale, with a 3D photo-realistic model. Imagine buying a new sofa or a bed and being able to try out different positions, designs, colours and getting used to what it would really look like in your own room. With the added benefit of a ‘click to buy’ feature this is going to be huge!

There are key benefits for in-store applications of AR as well, for example awe-inspiring installations where markers viewed through an app jump out of the floor or appear around the retail space. Not only creating a new and innovative buzz but also a great space saver allowing people to view products in different styles, materials, colours and sizes or even virtually trying on clothes without actually entering the changing room. This creatively takes multi-channel retailing to the next level.

Installations can also be informative and provide the necessary information for the consumer, for example whilst viewing their new sofa through the AR app it can overlay all the information relating to the product such as cost, delivery time, etc thereby reducing the in-store point of sale material required.

Applications are not only restricted to online or in-stor. Major brands are embracing the world of AR catwalk shows and interactive AR clothes, like this fun rock paper scissors T-shirt! The way I see it we’re really are only limited by our imaginations.

CASSETTE PLAYA AW1011 – AUGMENTED REALITY from Amazing Grace on Vimeo.

As with any marketing strategy AR applications need to be done well and combined as part of a wider marketing strategy. A shining example of how this can be achieved is the artfinders application. Users can use the artfinders website to create and share virtual galleries of their favourite paintings. The artfinders AR app, uses the phones GPS to identify when the user is near a gallery that is displaying one of the paintings they have in their virtual gallery. Whilst in the gallery the app then searches to see if the gallery sells a print of that masterpiece, if not it will connect you to a website which has that print for order and will allow you to click to buy and have the print delivered to your home – amazing!

I truly believe AR will shape the future of retail on and offline and for those with the creative insight to lead the charge they will deliver a truly innovative and eye-popping user experience.

Digicave is a Brighton based company who have pioneered 3D photo-realistic scanning and freeviewpoint media and showcase some great examples of this technology in action.

Facebook's evolution gets even more personal

It seems difficult to believe that it’s only just over a year since Facebook released the ‘Like’ button, yet they claim that 10,000 sites use this plug-in daily.  Yet following hard on the heels of the ‘Like’ button now is the ‘Send’ button, which will allow individuals to be much more specific about who they want to share content they like with, rather than simply posting a message onto their own Facebook page for all of their followers to see.  A logical evolution, and one that lends even more weight to the power of advocacy, or positive user experience, of rich and engaging content and for brands to really think about how they can harness the untapped potential of their audience for mutual benefit.

And, of course, this reinforces Facebook’s position as THE dominant player in brand to consumer social media marketing.

More on how Facebook has evolved their widgets in less than 3 short years from Techcrunch.

As Taco Bell proves, managing your social media campaign doesn’t have to be rocket science

The beginning of 2011 has brought to light just how volatile branded social media presences can be. On the one hand you have Lush’s unfortunate handling of their recent website hacking, and the resulting tsunami of negative feedback. On the other hand, you have Taco Bell’s equally combustible taco beef filler swell that barely got a mention online. Both stories highlight how brands’ social media strategies, or lack there of, resulted in case studies to learn from.

Lush’s misplacement of presumably thousands of customers’ credit card details highlights the increasingly complex customer relations driven online world. Whilst in itself the loss of more than three months’ worth of online credit card information is grave for any brand, what compounded the issue is Lush’s somewhat lacklustre response to its social media following.

Having identified the hacker’s attack on Christmas Day, Lush decided to see what happened (as if there was ever any doubt of the thief’s intentions) rather than inform its customers of the attack. As customers were informed 106 days after the initial attack, Lush’s official Facebook page offered some support and advice to its disappointed followers.

Indeed, Facebook offered the ideal environment for Lush users to share their horror stories of calls from the bank and suchlike – it seems the hackers were actively using the stolen information for their own January sale shopping. It is not yet clear why Lush chose to not limit their website sooner as they have now done by relying on PayPal’s evidently safer transactional systems. Perhaps the lure of a January revenue kick-start to 2011 proved to be too tempting.

Taco Bell, conversely, were honest and timely in their response. Faced with the breaking news that their taco meat contained a little more than just pure beef, Taco Bell grabbed the bull by the horns and addressed the issue.

It may have come as little surprise that their menu contains a little filler (read: oats and water, essentially). However, Taco Bell took the issue very seriously and immediately jumped on Facebook to reassure their fans of the facts; resulting in an appreciative and overwhelmingly positive reaction, the likes of which Lush can now only dream of right now.

These two differing outcomes to breaking, negative news illustrate the importance of having a social media strategy in place. What’s clear is that customers expect real-time responses when using channels such as Facebook from informed spokespeople. Do you have your emergency PR / crisis management strategy prepared? Facebook offers people, consumers, advocates and brand ambassadors the perfect soapbox when your brand is doing everything right. But when things go wrong, you need to ensure you have systems and processes in place to communicate openly and honestly with customers, which in turn will help to negate the impact.