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[17 comments]

Google-powered 3-D loyalty app hits retail

July 7, 2014

Walgreens has partnered with its loyalty-app partner, Aisle411, to test Google's virtual indoor 3-D mapping technology, Project Tango. The combined technologies enable shoppers to search and navigate products in store aisles while receiving promotions and gaining loyalty points.

Since early June, Walgreens has tested an enhanced version of its branded app internally at four stores in Chicago, New York, Seattle and St. Louis.

Fully unveiled at the Google I/O Developer Conference on June 25, Google's Project Tango is used to create 3-D maps of indoor spaces with the ability to show a user's precise location and orientation within centimeters of accuracy. Special cameras inside each store captures two million data points per second.

[Image: aisle411 in-store 3D mapping]

Leveraging Aisle411's inventory searchable indoor maps, the app allows users to search out and navigate to specific products in a 3-D augmented reality experience inside the store. Users can also simultaneously receive personalized coupons, offers and rewards that "pop out" of the shelf along their in-store route, as well as collect loyalty rewards just for walking down aisles. Comparing the rewards experience to a video game, special offers on the shelf can also then be "clipped" to the loyalty card.

"We're now turning the utility into an immersive game-like experience inside the store," Aisle411 CEO Nathan Pettyjohn told Advertising Age.

Aisle411's in-store mapping technology — which are GPS-enabled but non-3-D — is already used at 12,500 stores including Walgreens, Home Depot and Shop 'n Save. The Project Tango technology will be piloted in multiple locations with other major retailers over the coming months.

According to a 2011 study by Forrester, 58 percent of consumers want to get in-store product information and 19 percent of consumers are already browsing their mobile devices while in-store.

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Discussion Questions:

How appealing will consumers find a 3-D map of the store where they are shopping displayed on their mobile devices? What do you think of the potential marriage of augmented-reality, in-store apps and loyalty marketing?

While we value unfettered opinion, we urge you to show respect and courtesy for people or companies about whom you comment. Keep in mind that this is a public, professional business discussion. RetailWire reserves the right to edit or refuse the publication of remarks that we deem unsuitable. We may also correct for unintended spelling and grammatical errors.

Instant Poll:

How appealing will consumers find a 3-D map of the store where they are shopping displayed on their mobile devices?

Comments:

This map-app will appeal to the younger shoppers who are already utilizing their mobile devices. Over time, in-store technology will play a greater role in shopping habits and purchase decisions. The ability to find products, get offers and earn points in a very seamless manner will, in my opinion, be widespread in many retailers by the end of the decade. After all, the mobile app is just this; the future generation's more sophisticated shopping list!

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J. Peter Deeb, Managing Partner, Deeb MacDonald & Associates, L.L.C.

Do we really think it's that hard to find something in a Walgreens store? I'm thinking that in the time it takes me to search with the app, I'll have already found it.

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Dr. Stephen Needel, Managing Partner, Advanced Simulations

Maps are certainly useful for larger stores, and getting access to additional product information, including inventory, via a mobile device is very attractive. But I don't think many consumers will embrace augmented reality (3-D or not) after the novelty wears off. The information can be delivered in a more straightforward way using simple mobile apps.

However, this is a technology that could really benefit in-store employees, especially if Glass allows them hands-free operation.

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David Dorf, Sr. Director of Technology Strategy, Oracle Retail

It's about time. Retailers should marry augmented reality (AR) with in-store apps to deliver coupons and loyalty cards. Consumers should be able to use the apps to create menus and shopping lists, quickly find the items they want in-store, and digitally receive and use coupons, all while collecting loyalty points. This is a win for consumers (convenience and savings), brands (personalized offers) and retailers (better personalized data).

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Max Goldberg, President, Max Goldberg & Associates

Not sure I want Google to know what I'm shopping for in a Walgreens ...

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Cathy Hotka, Principal, Cathy Hotka & Associates

I don't know if this will work or not, but I do think it is an important step. For many concepts, "loyalty" has become buying visits, without a value-add beyond the coupons. That's fine if you measure what you are doing and it pays out. But anything retailers can do to go beyond, to create uses of loyalty programs that go beyond the trip-driving discount, has the potential to create something truly new, different and engaging for the consumer. Kudos to Walgreens.

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Jonathan Marek, Senior Vice President, Applied Predictive Technologies

I believe this is the first viable commercial foray into augmented reality, and I have been a Google Glass Explorer.

I say this is the first viable commercial entry because the shopper doesn't need to spend a fortune, or climb a learning curve, to get the experience or the personalization.

Sure, this is pretty rudimentary now. However, I do believe it is the harbinger of shopping to come.

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Liz Crawford, VP, Strategy & Insights, Match Drive

If it really works, my bet is they'll like it. Will they demand all apps have 3-D features? Not right now.

The vision of the early virtual reality pioneers Like Jaron Lanier is proving to be spot on. What people seem to want is the ability to navigate in and between conventional reality and an augmented—more entertainment model based—reality. We really see this everywhere.

News people on television now spend the majority of their time interviewing each other about what they think about somebody else's opinion, and CNN spend its time producing specials. The blending of marketing and reality has been well underway for decades, but gets turbocharged in a digital world.

Reality is becoming mediated in multiple senses of the world—delivered through media which in turns provides a filter and buffer between the user and the world.

So 3-D location finders? Almost an anachronism already. What we really need is a hologram assistant to escort you to what you are looking for.

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Ryan Mathews, Founder, ceo, Black Monk Consulting

Interesting concept. I have used Aisle411's app in my local Walgreens and it works exceptionally well. Rather than walking up and down aisles, it's great to be directed right to where the items I am looking for are, and tying this to my loyalty program is a logical step.

As this is in the early stages of development, the video above shows what I am assuming is the 7-inch tablet. It will be worth watching the development of it. I think the key is getting it to run on smartphones rather than requiring someone having to mount a tablet to their shopping cart.

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Bill Davis, Director, MB&G Consulting

While I think it's cool and I like the idea of receiving rewards, I just don't see it being practical. When I go to the pharmacy I'm usually in a hurry and on a mission.

In the time it takes to log onto my Walgreens app and tap in what I'm looking for, I could already have gotten what I needed and be ready to pay. The stores just aren't that big and cruising every aisle isn't on my list of things to do.

Additionally, I'm not loving the fact that my every move is recorded by Google.

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Marge Laney, President, Alert Technologies, Inc.

Shades of Videocart! The cart-mounted tablet configuration in this video looks an awful lot like the shopper-tracking and ad-delivery system that reached its experimental peak in 1992. Of course, today's digital/mobile/augmented reality version at Walgreens adds some intriguing new factors to the equation.

3-D store maps provide wow factor and practical benefit to shoppers who may be challenged to locate desired items. They certainly create an opportunity for brand marketers who want to deliver promotions at the shelf and create conversion opportunities.

As with its legendary predecessor, a key to making the present system highly effective will be complete, current and accurate data on the location of items within the store layout and on the shelves. Capturing and maintaining this data has always been a costly activity. In the new mobile/digital world, shoppers' own devices have potential to become part of the data-capture solution.

Let's be clear: The imaging and machine-learning technology that will enable a connected mobile phone or tablet camera to identify groups of items on store shelves with high accuracy has a long way to go. Camera resolution and network upload speeds are just two of the significant limitations. Then, factor in changing package graphics, item orientation (the angle of view) and environmental factors like glare. This stuff ain't easy.

Some shoppers will certainly enjoy convenient guidance to the items on their lists and the opportunity to receive personalized deals via the AR screen—at least on some visits. To gauge the business benefits, retailers will need to confront the question they have been wrestling with since Videocart: Is it better when our shoppers look up at our merchandise or look down at the screen?

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James Tenser, Principal, VSN Strategies

I like to call this the 4th dimension. When we can use augmented reality to enhance the 3D experience! I remember walking around Las Vegas casinos a few years ago and wishing I had an app to show me how to get back to my car in 3D.

Will consumers find this appealing? You betcha! On their mobile device? Not so much, maybe. The screen on the phone is pretty small and could be problematic but for some applications, yes!

Retailers will have to think through the service experience they are trying to create, but I do see this as a major win. That's my 2 cents....

Lee Kent, Let's meet share and succeed in Retail, YourRetailAuthority

Will this help Walgreens (and others) with SKU reduction? Because that's what they really need. You can't find anything in the over-assorted clutter, so perhaps a computer will help you? Does it seem like some fundamentals are missing first?

Also, any time your customers are saying, "I'd rather stare at a screen than talk to an associate while I'm in your stores," you've got some problems beyond product ID.

I think it's good they're testing this kind of thing, don't get me wrong, but the underlying issues that call for the tech to be used in the first place are glaringly obvious.

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Lee Peterson, EVP Creative Services, WD Partners

If using the map is easy and can quickly locate products, that will be a convenient service that consumers will like. However, consumers may not be so excited about having to navigate the store and the actual store while going through the store. The coupons and offers could be overwhelming by adding another layer of information to a confusing experience. The differentiator is likely to be the software itself.

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Camille P. Schuster, Ph.D., President, Global Collaborations, Inc.

Appealing? I downloaded the app before I got to this question! The map is a time saver. Ever try to find a specific item on the medicine shelf? On top of that, coupons and loyalty tied to the app make it even more appealing. Walgreen's just leap-frogged the competition here. Google? Talk about disruptive. I love Google! A little "big brother-ish?" Yes. But then again, you don't have to use it.

For those who think this is just for younger shoppers...get rid of your flip phones and step into 2014. Anyone with a smart phone should be using this. I guarantee the fun factor will bring people in and I would expect they will get a lot of converts. The funny thing is, I have a Walgreens right down the street from another drug store I typically go to. Same distance, I've just never been in it.

I've gotta go now, I'm heading to Walgreens to try out my new app!

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Janet Dorenkott, VP & Co-owner, Relational Solutions, Inc.

Google is getting into the 21st century with an amazing assortment of practical and easy to use software. The products will easily move into all generations simply because of ease of use combining with a need to make it effortless to find needed products and services quickly.

'gjarnoldjr'

Our recent research indicates that more than 80% of shoppers are very loyal to their primary store and are very familiar with their store's layout. In fact, much research indicates that shoppers become frustrated when retailers change the layout of their store because it makes it more difficult for them to shop efficiently.

This type of technology could prove helpful after a macro or micro space reset to help customers easily find the new location of their preferred products. When combined with a deep understanding of an individual shopper's needs, it could also be used to serve up information on products that the customer should be interested in but don't currently purchase.

For example, it could be used to help customers find products that fit with a specific need, such as products that are healthy. Similarly, special offers that are highly relevant to individual customers could be presented at the right time when the customer is in the aisle. For some customers and for some purchases this technology will be viewed as helpful. But without a deep customer understanding, the technology could become just another mechanism that bombards customers with irrelevant offers.

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Graeme McVie, VP & GM, Business Development, LoyaltyOne

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