How Augmented Reality Will Save the Holidays for Brick-and-Mortar Retail – Adweek
The holidays are a critical time for brands to engage with consumers. As one of the most profitable times of the year for many retailers, brands must find new and innovative ways to stay top of mind with customers.
During the 2021 holiday season, U.S. shoppers spent more than $878 billion, with roughly $211 billion of that coming from online sales, up 54.9% compared with the 2019 holiday season. Accelerated by the pandemic, ecommerce has become the new normal for many shoppers. This shift to online shopping significantly impacts brick-and-mortar stores whose success relies on shoppers going into the store. So, to drive more foot traffic, retailers need to rethink the in-store experience and give consumers new reasons to visit and explore the physical location.
One of the ways in which retailers can do this is through augmented reality (AR). Augmented Reality is intrinsically experiential, as it makes users an active participant with the virtual content they engage with in the real world around them.
By taking advantage of the physical space, AR unlocks a location’s digital twin, which can be augmented to create an infinite number of extraordinary experiences. This gives new meaning to a location and engages consumers in an interactive experience that can lead to measurable results. And with web-based augmented reality (WebAR), this can all be achieved in the browser, with no app download required, making it extremely easy and accessible for users to engage with.
Augmented reality can drive customers to real-world places by converting them into interactive location-based AR experiences.
Launched as a demo for this Halloween season, the “Hell’s Sovereign” WebAR experience created by immersive technology agency, Unbound, aims to drive traffic to the central business district (CBD) precinct in Sydney, Australia. This location-based experience uses AR to reveal the historical city center’s Halloween-themed parallel world and rewards shoppers with discount vouchers for surrounding stores.
As part of the demo, shoppers who visit the CBD precinct can use their smartphone to point their camera at a bronze statue of Queen Victoria to trigger the AR experience. Once activated, shoppers see the statue change into a haunted version of itself, while zombie hands burst up through the ground and a flock of crows land on the statue, completing the spooky scene.
The AR crows are tied to exclusive and limited daily retail offers and only a certain number of crows are spawned each day. This creates a sense of urgency for consumers to visit the statue and encourages them to return.
This experience connects the real world with the digital one by anchoring AR content to locations with unprecedented accuracy and precision using Niantic’s newly released Lightship VPS (visual positioning system) for web technology. This technology enables location-based AR experiences that feel more personal, more meaningful, and more real, and gives users new reasons to explore the world around them.
AR can enable larger-than-life installations that can only be achieved with virtual content.
Each year, tens of thousands of people visit the Harrods department store to see its famous Christmas window displays along Brompton Road in London.Last year,Harrods worked with immersive content studio, Visualise, to add an extra dimension to the display by turning four of the department store’s windows into an augmented reality experience.
Instead of seeing a physical display through a window, shoppers instead were presented with a window wrap featuring a QR code they were asked to scan in order to “Witness a Spectacle.” Once scanned, the window display came to life with holiday-themed AR content.
Using their smartphone, shoppers saw a virtual curtain rise on the window to reveal a clockwork robot toy donning a Harrods “H” breast plate. The life-size robot came to life and began to dance mechanically to Swan Lake. Mid-way through its performance, the character became self-aware and removed the mechanical restraints from its feet to freestyle dance in the window before putting on a Santa Hat to wave and take its final bow.
This AR experience used 8th Wall’s Image Target technology to trigger and track the AR experience on the window wrap. As this experience is web-based, users were able to instantly engage with the AR experience. Users could also share the experience with friends and family by utilizing the capture and share capabilities.
Augmented reality can also encourage consumers to explore a specific location, increasing the time they spend in-store.
In 2020, Westfield Mall launched a large-scale, augmented reality holiday-themed scavenger hunt across 22 Westfield shopping centers across the U.S. By scanning a QR code at a participating Westfield location, The Holiday Hunt took shoppers on a magical adventure through the mall to uncover 10 virtual holiday-themed characters, including dancing gingerbread people, snowmen, a Santa Claus face filter, a Nutcracker, reindeer and more—each providing the opportunity for a selfie or video recording that could be shared with friends and family. Upon finding all 10 characters, players were awarded with exclusive promotions and offers to redeem at participating shops.
Created by COFFEE Labs using the 8th Wall platform, The Holiday Hunt was the world’s first WebAR scavenger hunt to take over U.S. malls. It provided a fun and safe way for shoppers to get into the holiday spirit while browsing for gifts, encouraging them to spend more time in the mall, and gamified the holiday shopping experience by challenging shoppers to find all the AR characters as part of the hunt.
Consumer shopping behavior is changing and retailers need to implement ways in which brick-and-mortar retail can become experiential destinations. With 5 billion smartphones capable of engaging with WebAR, the time to use this technology to give holiday shoppers new reasons to visit, explore and engage with physical retail locations is now.
As director of product management at Niantic, Tom Emrich leads product and marketing for 8th Wall, Niantic’s web-based augmented reality development platform. 8th Wall has powered thousands of branded WebAR experiences for top brands around the world. Tom is recognized as one of the leading thought leaders in augmented reality, virtual reality and the metaverse. A pioneer in this space, Tom has over a decade-long track record of running tech teams and providing strategic direction in emerging technologies for powerhouse brands and organizations.
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