Augmented reality: It sounds like something out of this Christmas season’s big-budget futuristic action movie TRON: Legacy. But it’s actually an emerging technology that’s coming soon to a retail outlet near you. Far-fetched? Not really. Last weekend Tacori held an augmented reality demonstration at Bloomingdale’s flagship store in New York City to promote the jewelry designer’s new colored stone-set 18k925 collection. An industry first for a U.S. jewelry designer/manufacturer.
You don’t have to see the TRON sequel to better understand this technology, which is already catching on in many European markets. Augmented reality—or AR as it’s commonly called—is a term for a live, direct or indirect, view of a physical real-world environment whose elements are augmented by virtual computer-generated sensory input such as sound or graphics. In the context of the recent Tacori demonstration, people participating in Tacori’s AR demonstration virtually tried on a number of rings from the 18k925 collection.
“We’ve had our eye on AR technology for some time,” says Tacori marketing director Michelle Adorjan. “But from the companies we surveyed that were working with this technology, none were working with it at the level where we wanted it for a Tacori AR event.”
That was, of course, until Adorjan and her colleagues discovered U.K.-based Holition, an international leader in 3-D and AR solutions for a number of industries including luxury retail brands such as De Beers Jewellers, Boucheron and Swiss watchmaker Tissot.
As a strategic retail partner, Tacori wanted to take this year’s seasonal promotion to another level for Bloomingdale’s. Just over three months ago, Adorjan and her marketing colleagues at Tacori contacted Holition CEO Jonathan Chippindale to do just that. In terms of developing a marketing campaign, Adorjan described the last three months as a “full-court press” on getting the AR demonstration ready in time for this year’s peak shopping season at the famed retailer’s flagship.
The initial hurdle was getting Bloomingdale’s approval to do the AR demonstration. After clearing that high jump, the remaining logistics were fairly straightforward, but still required a lot of back-and-forth between Tacori’s California office and Holition’s headquarters in London.
Holition had the software developed and ready to go. All the tech company had to do was take Tacori’s CAD renderings of the 18k925 jewelry and make virtual models of each piece Tacori wanted to demonstrate from the collection.
Paul Tacorian and Michelle Adorjan give an AR demonstration.
“The biggest challenge was getting the rings in the AR software to look as close as possible to the quality of CAD renderings on our side,” says Adorjan. “But once those quality control issues were worked out, it was just a matter of organizing the event in a way that would appeal to holiday shoppers.”
Throughout the industry Tacori is best known for their bridal jewelry. But with the company’s new color fashion jewelry, they wanted to appeal to female self-purchases. So when single women are ready to take the plunge, Tacori is top-of-mind at bridal jewelry decision-buying time.
Plus, conducting the AR demonstration with the colored stone–set jewelry gives Tacori representatives a chance to teach women how to wear jewelry. AR technology can not only employ user-friendly touch-screen technology to virtually try on a variety of rings in just minutes if not moments, but it can also change the background environment where the jewelry will be worn. (Although the background-change technology wasn’t available during Tacori’s recent AR demonstration, they will be using it in future AR events where backgrounds and even the outfit of the AR viewer can be changed—or “augmented,” in keeping with the emerging technology argot.)
Tacori is looking to do another AR event leveraging its bridal strengths and brand equity in time for Valentine’s Day. The recent 18k925 AR demonstration was not only an opportunity to test the AR waters, but also to observe and learn. To Adorjan’s knowledge, Tacori is the first American jewelry company to conduct a public AR demonstration. So there was much to learn.
In general: “People loved it,” says Adorjan. “It wasn’t too futuristic and not at all intimidating. Interestingly, some of the most enthusiastic people who participated in the AR demonstration were 10-year-old boys, who said the technology was ‘cool.’ ”
In terms of gender appeal, it was a 50/50 split with women and men demonstrating the same interest in the AR demonstration. Generally speaking, women liked the speed and ease of the touch-screen technology and the ability to virtually try on a variety of rings faster than putting physical pieces of jewelry on their fingers one at a time. Gents simply liked the technology and took advantage of the Tacori AR demonstration to learn about an emerging technology; Tacori jewelry just happened to be part of that learning process.
Holition’s Chippindale is encouraged by his company’s first AR event in the U.S. market: “Far-sighted early adopters like Tacori allow us to see the validation some of theses ideas and witness the benefit of presenting product in new and exciting ways,” says Chippindale. “Watching a Bloomingdale’s customer see an augmented reality ring, interact with the application and get so excited that they went two floors down to purchase the actual product was a very exciting and fulfilling experience, and the transition of theory to practice.”
Another logistical store challenge for Adorjan and her colleagues was hosting the AR demonstration in a high-traffic area on the third floor of Bloomingdale’s with the fine jewelry department two floors down in a mezzanine area between the first and second floors. Tacori’s senior vice president of marketing Paul Tacorian was there for the three-day AR event which was held in conjunction with a Tacori trunk show.
To track customer movement between the two areas, Tacori used clientele prize entry forms at each location to differentiate when customers experienced Tacori “virtually” and when they experienced it in reality at the fine jewelry counter—and were able to verifiably send considerable foot traffic (between 20 percent and 50 percent) from the virtual installation on the third floor directly to the fine jewelry counter on the mezzanine.
Testing Tacori’s AR system
Two final logistical challenges included being able to project the AR interaction to the people crowded around the AR demonstration area and passersby. “Given the technology and the set up we had with one large high-definition monitor, only the person in front of the AR display could see what was going on. In the future, multiple display screens would give other customers a reason to stop and participate in the AR demonstration.”
Also, the high-traffic area chosen was too close to an escalator walkway. When crowds gathered around Tacori’s AR demonstration, people wanting to go down or up one floor had to navigate through the people stopping to see the AR demo.
“In the future, I think a high-traffic area works well, but we could use multiple screens to guide shoppers from a busy area to a more quiet demonstration space,” says Adorjan. “This would be the ideal way to do it.”
Overall, Tacori staffers at the Bloomingdale’s event were very pleased with their first-ever public AR demonstration. Given the company’s heavy print ad promotions in the main fashion magazines, many people who participated in Tacori’s AR event mentioned the jewelry designer’s print ads. “We received lots of praise,” says Adorjan. “People said ‘amazing’ so many times and most were very impressed.”
Adorjan wasn’t at liberty to discuss the details of the company’s next Valentine’s Day AR demonstration, other than to say bridal jewelry will be the primary focus. And that Tacori learned much to make their next AR event even more effective.
A Bloomingdale’s customer virtually tries on a Tacori 18k925 ring.
She also observed how AR technology could be best used by independent jewelers. With many store owners putting their promotional dollars in doing off-site demonstrations, AR technology could give them the wow factor to generate a real buzz at a bridal registry event.
For mall-based jewelers, AR technology could drive foot traffic from concentrated areas such as a food court or main mall entrance to a deeper store location on the ground floor or upper level.
“AR could easily be a first step into a store’s many entrées,” says Adorjan. “It’s a good way not only for us when clienteling but also retail store owners. And AR technology can be used with other emerging technologies such as QR codes. These are technologies that let people know that as a company you’re staying fresh and relevant.”
Chippindale has his own insights on the matter: “There is no doubt that this type of technology works well for scale players who can amortize the costs over several platforms or partners, such as manufacturers who can deploy one AR application across several of its retailer partners websites, and thus generating economies of scale, but as the technology becomes more developed, thus lowering costs, there is no reason why it should not be available to any retail organization.”
How far off is AR technology? “It’s not that far out there,” says Adorjan. “The technology is fairly turnkey and people were very receptive to it.”
Chippindale concurs: “The future of this type of technology lies in our industry’s ability to integrate it across the majority of a retailer’s product mix,” says the Holition CEO. “When it moves from being a marketing tool to being an infrastructure tool, the engine room of a website, allowing consumers to virtually try on multiple product lines, then I will feel that augmented reality has taken a permanent place alongside other communication channels. In effect this will require marker-less tracking, advanced CAD rendering, applications embedded in browsers, and above all a step-change in the way the product is brought to consumers, so that the user experience is creative, innovative and visually stunning.”
Those who’d like to give Tacori’s AR technology a test drive can go to tacori.com/tryiton.