May 4, 2017

How Businesses Are Using Augmented Reality for Location-Based Experiences


Facebook’s 2017 F8 conference got the technology industry buzzing about everything from virtual reality to messenger business bots. But as I discussed last week on our blog, the biggest news from F8 was Facebook’s embrace of augmented reality. Facebook vowed to make the camera the first AR platform and launched a platform for developers to create AR content, thus accelerating the process of making AR an everyday experience. Of course, an announcement from Facebook affects everyone, including the local search industry. Practitioners and brands are taking a renewed interest in understanding how to apply AR to attract and retain customers locally. As it turns out, a number of businesses already are using AR locally. Here are a few examples:

Wayfinding at Lowe’s

Lowe’s consistently looks for ways to innovate with its customer experience, which is helping the leading home goods retailer grow amid a retailing downturn. The company recently disclosed that it is using AR to help customers navigate its cavernous stores. Lowe’s says that its Lowe’s Vision: In-Store Navigation app is “the first retail application of indoor mapping using augmented reality.” In two pilot stores, customers using the Google AR Tango technology on their smartphones find products and learn about them at the same time. The app overlays directions on their phones (akin to arrows painted on highway pavement) along with information about products, creating an easier, smarter navigation:

The navigation app is one of many Lowe’s innovations that improve the customer experience. For instance, customers can also use the Lowe’s Vision app to visualize how products look in their homes. Clearly, Lowe’s understands the power of an experience.

Augmented Reality in the Fashion Industry

Not surprisingly, clothing retailers have been taking the lead in applying AR, especially to help customers visualize how clothing will look without having to actually endure the hassle of trying on multiple sets of clothing. To give you some perspective on how long AR has been supporting location-based experiences: a store in Moscow, Topshot, made news for launching an AR fitting room experience back in 2011. Using Microsoft Kinect, Topshot shoppers could see themselves on a screen with 3D copies of clothing they are interested in buying:

Other fashion retailers have developed their own similar AR experiences, such as Uniqlo Magic Mirror, which also uses a full-length mirror to help shoppers visualize how clothing looks on them. I actually tried that at Uniqlo San Francisco when it launched. Here again, such applications have been around for years. But it won’t be long before Amazon catches up with its own AR magic mirror. What will fashion retailers do next?

Fun and Games

Pokémon GO is everyone’s favorite story of gamifying AR, and indeed AR naturally lends itself to playful experiences. The NBA Cleveland Cavaliers recently activated an AR game that encourages fans to compete against each other in a virtual pop-a-shot inside the Quicken Loans Arena. Using their mobile devices, fans square off against each other by trying to shoot virtual baskets on the stadium’s giant electronic board. As reported in SportTechie:

Fans are split into different sections to compete against each other to win prizes depending on their scores and shooting streaks. The Cavaliers then capture the images in real time and display them on the jumbotron for everyone to see.

If a fan nets 10 shots in a row, he or she automatically qualifies for a prize to redeem in the arena’s Social Zone for unlocking a specific achievement.

What I like about the Cleveland Cavaliers experience is that it’s a social experience, involving a number of fans in a live setting. I can easily see more businesses applying this idea, such as at music events.

If you are thinking of applying AR to create a better local experience, the time to change from thinking to doing may very well be here. You might be in an industry such as retail that faces multiple threats, in which case I’ll bet you are taking action already. Challenges have a way of inspiring action. If you feature AR already, one question to ask yourself is how well you are making it easy for people to find your AR experience in your store. After Facebook F8, searches for augmented reality spiked on Google, and although those searches have tailed off, there remains a healthy interest in the topic. If you offer AR, make sure that your location pages prominently mention and showcase this capability. Don’t hold back. AR may very well be your most popular competitive advantage for location-based experiences.

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