New realities: the brands mixing digital, mobile and real life

Virtual reality systems Oculus Rift and Microsoft’s Hololens have been getting plenty of attention recently. And while it remains to be seen whether humans will be happy to strap something to their face (or whether they’ll plug technology straight into their DNA, as is being predicted), what’s clear is that they are willing to give augmented reality a whirl. And retailers from Walmart to Freedom Furniture to New World to Lego are all trialling it.

Augmented reality has the ability to video or photograph a live situation and insert computer-generated information into it, creating an experience that mixes digital, mobile and reality. And it’s surprisingly popular: Bixa Media found 30 percent of smartphone users used AR at least once a week in 2014 and Forbes says VR and AR will generate $150 billion in revenue in the next five years

As well as this, mobile augmented reality users are expected to grow to reach 200 million in 2018.

Retailers have been getting on board with this technology since as early as 2009, used in anything from virtual fitting rooms to toys coming to life when held up to a screen.

Freedom Furniture created an augmented reality app in 2014 that allowed customers to plonk a piece of virtual furniture into their house and see what it looks like.

Freedom’s head of marketing Jeff Karger told Idealog that furniture is notoriously hard to conceptualise in a space.

“Our solution ensures your favourite product from our catalogue actually fits your space and matches your existing surrounds without you physically lugging it there,” Karger says.

Other Kiwi companies trying out AR include Westpac.

If its Westpac customers find entering a pin on their phone banking app too tiresome, they can hold their card up to the camera of their device instead.

The app shows them their recent transactions and balance in 3D.

Fonterra and New World tried out AR technology back in 2013.

With the app, customers could hold their phone up to posters in store and make them come to life.

 They’d be shown product information on Tip Top, Fresh’n Fruity, Anchor and Mainland brands and even cows grazing near the chiller.

In this regard, AR can increase customer engagement.

Smartphone and tablet users who are engrossed in their phones and distracted from shopping are engaged by a “blended” experience involving their devices.

Overseas, Lego began piloting AR technology since 2009 and it’s now in all of its stores worldwide.

Customers can try before they buy and see a 3D animated version of the Lego model they were considering buying come to life on screen.

AR changing rooms are also growing in popularity and Topshop begun using them in 2011.

A customer doesn’t have to spend time and effort trying on anything, as the AR technology visualises them wearing it.

Check out this very Sims-esque video of one in action.

AR can also expand a shop’s reach without having to expand its footprint.

China’s largest online grocer, Yihaodian (which is 51 percent owned by Walmart) brings its products to people without having to build a single store.

It has set up 1,000 virtual stores in places where no retail has gone before, like a parking lot.

The stores are invisible to passers-by that don’t have the app, but people who have it can peruse virtual aisles and select items by tapping on their screens.

And it then it becomes reality as the groceries are delivered to the customer’s home.

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