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Now Trending: Augmented retail-ity


Unless you’ve been on the moon for the last few weeks, you’ve heard about (or even played) Pokemon Go. This latest digital phenomenon -- which uses the camera and GPS mapping functionality on smartphones and mobile devices to let players to track down and “catch” a menagerie of cartoon creatures -- became the most downloaded game of 2016 within 24 hours, and would is already the biggest mobile game in U.S. history. But what’s truly exciting about Pokemon GO and augmented reality is the possibilities they present to retailers attempting to make shopping more active and experiential.

Augmented reality, or AR, describes systems and software that enhance real world environments with supplemental sensory input, typically by overlaying graphics or introducing computer-generated sound, video, or GPS data. Augmented reality isn’t new. The concept has been appearing in a number of different applications over the years, with high-profile examples like Google Glass. It isn’t even new in the world of retail, where brands have been using augmented reality in creative and increasingly engaging ways to connect with consumers.

In a retail context, AR could be as simple as a program that allows users to digitally “paint” photos of a room in their home when choosing paint colors, or to see how a piece of furniture looks in a space. Ikea started using it three years ago in its catalog. Other concepts introduced by apparel brands make it easy for shoppers to see what clothing looks like on their body without actually trying on the clothes. The Sampler iPhone app from Converse, for example, enables users to see what a particular shoe will look like on their feet simply by pointing their phone at their own leg. Uniqlo’s Magic Mirror allows shoppers to use a kind of virtual dressing room to cycle visually through a range of different color choices when trying on a single garment. Outdoor retailer Moosejaw drew wide-ranging attention to its catalog with an “X-Ray” app that allowed users remove the clothes from male and female models within its pages.

Some of these AR applications are fun and quirky; others are aimed at practicality, convenience or, to save time. But as anyone who has brought a tie with them to the store when purchasing a sport coat, or who has tried on a skirt in the store and wondered if it went with the top hanging in her closet at home can attest, a little convenience can go a long way.

Whether for publicity or practicality, augmented reality can prove a worthy weapon in the quest to make shopping more experiential, to make consumers more engaged and invested. At a time when retailers have been casting about to find ways to leverage technology, Pokemon Go bodes well for the future of the technology in retail. It has demonstrated how quickly AR can go mainstream and how excited people can get about using it.

Different AR applications can be used both at home or online--and inside brick-and-mortar stores. It certainly doesn’t hurt that augmented reality appeals to the Millennial demographic, a group that is already accustomed to integrating technology in the shopping process. AR is finding its way in retail, at the moment, but Pokemon’s innovation clearly indicates it will be a GO in the industry in the months and years ahead.

Jonathan Lapat is President of X Team International and Principal with Boston-based Strategic Retail Advisors. You can reach Jonathan at [email protected] and learn more about X Team at

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