Augmented Reality Check

Augmented reality…sounds like something straight out of a sci-fi novel. But this virtual technology—which overlays graphics on real-world images to create contextually rich scenes—is rapidly working its way into the industry. On Dec. 9, Tacori made industry history as the first American jewelry company to hold a consumer AR event.

Tacori teamed with Holi­tion, a U.K.-based company, for a three-day AR event/trunk show at Bloomingdale’s New York City flagship store. Shoppers had the chance to virtually try on jewelry from the brand’s latest 18k925 line at the AR demonstration; then they could physically try on the same pieces (and other Tacori jewelry) in the fine ­jewelry department two floors down.

Prize-entry forms were placed at each spot to help distinguish virtual visitors from jewelry-counter customers. Tacori was able to divert a considerable amount of foot traffic—between 20 percent and 50 percent—from the third-floor AR demo directly to the Tacori case on the mezzanine. “People loved it,” says marketing director Michelle Adorjan. “The technology wasn’t too futuristic and not at all intimidating.”

The biggest opportunities for AR currently lie in market expansion, says Tom ­Martin, president of marketing consulting firm Converse Digital. “No longer are they limited to being a local jeweler.” Retailers can also leverage AR for advertising. Consumers are already online—on desktops, laptops, or mobile devices—allowing them easy access to AR’s user-friendly touch-screen interface. Ironically, print media also works well with AR markers—small, printable shapes that interact with downloaded software. A webcam-equipped computer or smartphone (with a camera) can create real-world images. “You include the AR marker in your ads,” explains Martin. “Now a consumer needs only to go to your URL to activate the marker and see interactive content.”

The price tag for all this advanced technology isn’t necessarily high, says Holition CEO Jonathan Chippindale, whose company created an AR window display for watch brand Tissot at London’s Selfridges last September. He compares the costs with “a photographic shoot and a limited media campaign…or small product catalog.”

“The work we did with Tissot generated over 1 million pounds of ratable PR value. The AR application we built cost considerably less than the media campaign that accompanied it,” he notes. “The return on investment was enough for them to immediately come back for a new expanded AR application.”

Once AR becomes more common, Adorjan thinks retailers can benefit by using the technology at offsite events like bridal registries. Mall-based stores stand to gain even more since AR would allow them to transform large showrooms into significantly smaller virtual selling spaces. And retailers exploring low- to no-inventory business models could use product photos and CAD drawings rendered as images for AR as part of a viewing/selection system. “Consumers could pick out the pieces they wish to purchase, and the store could simply drop-ship the items from the manufacturer or from a centralized distribution point,” Martin says.

When retailers truly begin capitalizing on its potential, AR could be “really powerful,” says Chippindale. “But I definitely do not want or indeed see this technology replacing brick-and-mortar stores containing real product. In the end, it’s all about consumer choice.”

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