Can AR help shoppers get where they need to go?

Source: Blippar
Aug 13, 2018
Matthew Stern

For years, retailers, brands and tech companies have been trying to find the perfect use for augmented reality (AR). Now a startup is launching an AR app meant to enhance a retailer’s shopping experience by improving in-store navigation.

The solution called the Blippar Visual Positioning System allows retailers to set up AR content throughout their spaces, according to TechCrunch. The system helps customers find their way through grocery and department stores — as well as non-retail spaces, like stadiums — by letting them access an AR overlay that points them in the right direction.  The demo also suggests that the system can also overlay other information over store layouts, such as product ratings and promotions. 

A YouTube video demonstrates how the solution guides a user walking through an office with arrows superimposed over the floor and animated objects positioned throughout the various rooms.

While the demo is impressive, the act of walking with a phone or a tablet while shopping could be clumsy for users. While headsets that provide a fully immersive AR experience, such as the Magic Leap One, are coming to market, it remains to be seen if they will catch on.

Some in the tech world see AR as the inevitable next big thing, but the technology’s popularity has fluctuated in and outside of retail.

In the summer of 2016, the launch of AR game Pokémon Go led to an explosion of interest in the technology. Even retailers such as Starbucks began allowing their stores to officially double as in-game “gyms” to capitalize on the foot traffic. But the trend was short-lived with active users dropping off by 90 percent within a year, according to reports discussed on TechRadar.

More sustained use cases for AR technology have appeared in areas like home furnishings, tested by retailers including IKEA and Lowe’s.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS:  Is enhancing customer navigation within stores and malls a good use case for augmented reality tech? How do you see AR primarily being used in retail settings over the next five years?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
"I think this is certainly the direction shopping is heading, but it will be a slow burn."
"I don’t know if a whole fun-house AR layer makes sense in most places."
"I believe this technology will struggle getting a real foothold until some type of Google Glass type device is ubiquitous."

Join the Discussion!

20 Comments on "Can AR help shoppers get where they need to go?"

Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Dr. Stephen Needel

If I’m looking at my phone and the AR content showing up on it, I’m not looking at the merchandise. That can’t be a good thing. If the store is so convoluted that simple signage doesn’t work (like the kind in every major chain large grocery store I’ve ever been in), the signage is bad, not the system. Another case of technology looking for a solution.

Jennifer McDermott

I think this is certainly the direction shopping is heading, but it will be a slow burn. As noted, it could be clumsy for users. Can we also talk about the name? Blippar Visual Positioning System … not quite a “roll off your tongue” app name for consumers now, is it?

Bob Amster

Getting around malls and large stores is a challenge. Having to bury one’s nose in a screen while walking around is not a good idea. AR is better used in a stationary environment.

Sterling Hawkins

I don’t know if a whole fun-house AR layer makes sense in most places. There are definitely some basic directional and informational uses here consumers would find valuable though. We somehow manage to find our way around while texting/emailing (some better than others, naturally). If we can find where we’re going or more information about products, AR adds something to the equation.

Charles Dimov

Yes – this can be handy. Having a more visual navigation method is great, and it means customers can find what they are seeking when there isn’t a store rep available.

AR can definitely help with the extra pop-outs on discounts, or more importantly advertising non-price related items like “The Latest NEW XYZ Style.” However, my proviso is that retailers need to be careful with it. The video demo in the article is cute. Yet I found it to be immensely irritating. When I am shopping, I am not interested in 50 new distractions, nor am I interested in feeling like I am in a casino. Too many whiz-bangs, crowns and attention grabbers will have the opposite effect from what is intended with AR. It may turn people off right away — and we will have the next Pokemon drop-off effect. Seller beware!

Neil Saunders

Augmented reality has a big role to play in directions and it could prove very useful in big malls, cities and even in places like grocery and department stores. Using AR to overlay virtual content on products could be useful, especially for things like electronics or food where product detail or nutritional information is required. However, overlaying promotions or deals will only work well if retailers are disciplined and don’t bombard the shopper with hundreds of offers — just as many do with physical signs.

David Weinand

AR is good for providing detail on complex products (in a stationary environment) or for seeing a product in an environment (such as a home). As others have said, directional applications are clumsy and potentially dangerous as walking and staring at a phone don’t always mix.

Steve Montgomery

Enhancing customer navigation within stores and malls is a great idea. Using AR to do it, not so much. Walking around looking at an AR-enabled device may look cool to a few but I doubt this is how most people want to find their way. Adding ads and promotions to what is being viewed may be a way to generate revenue but if I were using it I would see it as a distraction at best.

Think how of much better it would have been for the new employee in the video to be greeted by a human being on their first day at work. Someone who could answer questions and introduce them to others. The same is true in a retail setting.

Bob Phibbs

I don’t know how many people want to shop in a Tron world. While I get the demo video was for their new employee, the constant overstimulation and need to look at what was fake left little time to look at what was real. I don’t see this as a broad adoptable trend. Just because you can do it, doesn’t mean you should.

Susan O'Neal
6 months 6 days ago

Yikes, there are two reasons to go in a physical store: 1.) you want to browse and look at the merchandise (inspiration, quality control) or 2.) you want something immediately (efficiency).

Customers who prioritize efficiency will just go online. This is not a good use for AR in retail.

Harley Feldman

Walking through stores with AR showing the way is a bit much for consumers who would have to use their phones and headphones while at the same time walking. A simple map would be a whole lot easier to use and communicate the path for the consumer. Even a 3-D picture of the destination department would work better than the real-time AR. AR works better in home furnishings or similar departments where AR can help the consumer see the layout and colors of their designed room furnished.

Brandon Rael

It’s challenging enough to navigate through shopping centers and malls with everyone glued to their smartphones and not paying attention to their surroundings. “Augmented Reality” (AR), along with “Artificial Intelligence,” “Cognitive” and “customer experience,” has become one of the industry buzzwords. However for AR to truly be successful, it has to be applied in the right way, and as an enhancement to the customer shopping experience.

Implementing technology for technology’s sake is not the right approach at all. Navigating through the mall has been enhanced by digital signage and town center-like approaches. AR has really started to achieve a bit of critical mass in the home decor, lifestyle and beauty categories. I am just not sure I see how the Blippar Visual Positioning System will resonate.

Doug Garnett

This could be a relatively well-done app (if the silliness, sound and distractions put into the demo were removed). So I’m more impressed than I expected.

And yet … Have retailers given up (often through their own mismanagement) with hiring and keeping smart, engaged employees? It’s possible that this opportunity went away when retail management put in ISO9xxx customer service requirements including surveys that punished employees for things they couldn’t control.

I can’t imagine that AR on their phone is better than having a good individual greet someone. Not only aren’t people looking around and seeing other things of interest, they aren’t engaging with a human being who could give them a better answer (and better experience) than the AR.

Cate Trotter

The point about people burying their heads in their smartphones while shopping is a good one, but if we’re being honest a lot of people are walking around doing this already! What I like about the idea is that it could help retailers and malls incorporate AR tech, and things like overlaying reviews, etc., without investing in providing their own hardware. I’ve said it a few times recently, but I so often find that in-store hardware isn’t very good or it’s often broken, and that customers are comfortable and familiar with using their own devices so I think it’s great to be leveraging that. As a concept I wouldn’t write this off yet, but it may take time to set in.

Ralph Jacobson

Can retailers provide these technologies for those shoppers who would be interested? Sure. However, this is such a small segment of the overall shopper audience for most retailers that there are about a hundred other opportunities, like BOPIS, in-stock conditions, loyalty, labor expense management, etc., that will take priority in the near term.

Ken Morris

Combining AR with store navigation and product locator apps makes it visually more appealing and enables other advanced capabilities. Consumers value product locator apps, especially in stores with large layouts that make it difficult to find products. With AR, retailers can recommend product and promotions with visually appealing images as consumers walk down aisles. It also creates the opportunity for retailers to track consumer paths and combine the app with other customer context to personalize the shopping experience.

Since users have to download the app, retailers can identify them when they are using the app and offer personalized recommendations based on their preferences and previous purchases. The issue of an awkward/clumsy tablet or phone UI is a real issue … I believe this technology will struggle getting a real foothold until some type of Google Glass type device is ubiquitous.

Craig Sundstrom

I found the video cute, but distracting (and to be honest, I thought it did a remarkably poor job of showing me how this product is supposed to work in a retail setting). So based on Matt’s description, this sounds overly complicated — or perhaps just cluttered. If someone needs special technology to find their way around, you need to simplify your layout.

Ricardo Belmar

The specific video demo (which I think exaggerates quite a bit — who wants all the casino slot machine beeps and bloops everywhere you walk — what a distraction!) may go a bit too far for the sake of demonstrating the technology, like all good applications of tech, it’s not the one size fits all answer. AR used wisely to augment the experience, may be coupled with an AI-based recommendation engine would be beneficial to shoppers who want more information about a product they re looking at. And yes, for discounters, it’s another opportunity to deliver a special offer to a loyal customer you’ve identified via the app.

I don’t believe any retailer wants to (or should) 100% turn the shopping experience into a video game, but a little bit of gamification can also be a sales boost. Plenty of examples of this in Asia.

Mike Osorio
I think most of my colleagues are missing the point here. The power of Blippar’s idea is the easy creation of an AR overlay onto any physical environment. Unfortunately, the video focuses on one overly gamified office environment, one that few if any operators would choose (although with the rise of digital/gaming natives, you never know). Later in the video, they move on to some still images of more logically appropriate overlays in stores, stadiums, etc. The point is this: Having an easy to access AR overlay is the key. Once in place, the operator (retailer, warehouse operator, stadium, etc.) can personalize the overlay to be “brand right” and developed for the population segment most likely to utilize the content. The final step, which has yet to be introduced, is the device that most people will use to access the AR overlay. I agree that today’s phones and tablets are too clumsy, and that Google Glass didn’t take off. But something will come that provides the easy to use access for the AR overlays which… Read more »
Kenneth Leung

I think AR should be used where it cannot be explained by physical signage. Using AR as signage smacks of “Minority Report” and doesn’t address the customer experience of the shopping who is in a physical location. AR for me makes more sense for product demonstrations I think where you need to alter reality, not for maps when you are in the mall.

"I think this is certainly the direction shopping is heading, but it will be a slow burn."
"I don’t know if a whole fun-house AR layer makes sense in most places."
"I believe this technology will struggle getting a real foothold until some type of Google Glass type device is ubiquitous."

Take Our Instant Poll

How likely is it that AR solutions will come into wide use at retail within the next five years?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...