Mobile Trends to Watch: Augmented Reality in Commerce

What Exactly is Augmented Reality?

When we think of Augmented Reality (AR), many of us conjure up images of Hollywood movies—Minority Report, Iron Man and Avatar—that have utilized this “futuristic” technology to tell fantastical stories. But AR is not just a made-up technology to help sell movie tickets; it is a relatively new technology that is slowing gaining traction in the mobile world. AR blurs the line between what is real and what is generated, all by computer graphics. describes AR in a very simple way, “It is the art of super-imposing of computer generated content over a live view of the world. It is quite literally the practice of enhancing what’s already around us.” A very simple use of AR is during an American football game. The reality is the footage of the game of football, and the augmentations are the arrows of the players’ movement or the first down line that doesn’t exist on the field but the viewer can see on the picture beamed over the airwaves and to a television screen thanks to the addition of a graphical overlay.

We are starting to see AR slowly become integrated into our everyday lives – colleges and universities offer AR apps to help new students learn more about campus buildings, politicians are utilizing AR for the upcoming November elections, and even educators have started to integrate AR into their classrooms.

Retail/Entertainment Industry and Augmented Reality

Because of the proliferation of mobile phones and technologies, AR has moved away from being a “gimmicky” marketing tactic to a full-on marketing strategy used to engage customers and provide a fun retail shopping and entertainment experience.

Just last weekend, my husband and I took our two children for a late afternoon trip to downtown Austin to watch To the Articic 3D at the Bob Bullock Museum/IMAX theatre. While waiting to go inside the theatre, I noticed that a poster for the movie Flying Dinosaurs included instructions on downloading the Junaio AR app to “make the dinosaurs come alive!” When I aimed my iPhone at the movie poster, my kids got a kick out of the flying pteranodon that appeared on the screen and had even more fun pretending they were flying right beside it! Even though we had already bought tickets to another movie, my kids are already talking about coming back to watch the flying dinosaurs movie because of the fun they had with the AR app. My observation – the AR app obviously worked! My children had fun, they were engaged and now they want me to bring them back to the theatre where I will gladly pay $20 for another set of movie tickets. Well played, National Geographic!

For retailers and entertainment brands, AR is a very compelling selling point because it is a unique way to make traditional advertising more interactive and exciting and is an easy way to feature valuable brand and product content without tying up shelf space. In just three simple steps, AR can create an “endless shelf” of product information, giving customers a memorable shopping experience:

  • The consumer waves a mobile phone camera over product packaging or bill board
  • The consumer “shoots” the marker on the package
  • The consumer has instant access to product information in a “cool” and interactive format.

According to the “Mobile Augmented Reality” report by Juniper Research, the installation of mobile augmented reality apps in smartphones and tablets is expected to reach 2.5 billion per year by 2017. That is 3.5 times the number of downloads recorded by Angry Birds in 2011. Not surprisingly, the report also stated that retail and entertainment will drive adoption.

“Adding AR to a magazine and encouraging readers to download and try it is a great way of educating consumers about what AR can offer them, but we won’t see an explosion in user numbers until major retail brands embrace and adopt AR in their own apps,” said Charlotte Miller, research analyst, Juniper Research.

AR has yet to make a large splash within the entertainment and retail industry, but its time is coming. IBM recently announced an augmented reality app for grocery stores wherein shoppers can create their own profiles of features that matter the most to them. Then, as a shopper browses the aisles, they can point the mobile phone video camera at merchandise to see info such as ingredients, price, reviews, and discounts that apply that day. For example, you could tell the app that you want a cereal brand that is low in sugar, highly rated by consumers and on sale at a low price. When you pan a shelf of cereal boxes the app revels which cereals meet the criteria. Without a doubt, this type of app (based on augmented reality technology) is another way to help brands understand their loyal customers better, and in a non-intrusive way.

On the other side of the pond, German grocery chain Edeka Hessenring, in cooperation with Ball Packaging Europe has developed a promotional campaign using AR to promote the chain’s new Cool Cola drink. The Cola can sports an animated 3D animal character that can be viewed using a sticker on the packaging and downloading the AR mobile app. When the customer points the phone’s camera at the eye-catching zipper design, the cartoon character poses in every photo taken with the camera. Edeka Hessenring encourages shoppers to pose together with the life-size figure and post the pictures on Facebook. This is a great example of not only engaging in a cool way with consumers, but incorporating social media into the AR campaign so that the grocer’s customers can share the fun with their friends, creating a viral effect for the promotional campaign.

My Favorite Augmented Reality Apps

It will be very interesting to see how retailers, brands and entertainment companies will use AR to engage with their customers in fun and exciting ways. I have no doubt that by this time next year, even my own mother will be very familiar with the term augmented reality! Until then, see below for a few of my favorite AR apps/features that are all the rage right now:

  • IKEA Virtual Catalogue – In a cost-savings move, the Swedish furniture giant has turned its traditional catalogue into a virtual one, complete with AR and 3-D graphics. iOS and Android users who download the Ikea catalog app, will be able to unlock video features, interactive experiences with products on the page, photo galleries and additional decorating inspiration.
  • Bloomingdales test virtual dressing room in NYC – In addition to clothes and accessories, technology was in vogue at Bloomingdale’s during New York’s Fashion Week, which took place Sept. 5-13. At 20 store locations, the high-end retailer temporarily opened virtual fitting rooms, called Swivel, which allowed shoppers standing in front of kiosks to see in 3D how items from its fall collection looked on them with just a few hand motions in front of a screen. On-screen tabs connected to the web let shoppers then share those images with friends via e-mail or social media.
  • New Walmart Interactive Store Signage – As part of a marketing strategy for Nickelodeon’s new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles TV series, Walmart has launched an AR app that lets customers interact with in-store signage. According to Jeff Tate, category marketing manager at Walmart Canada, “Users can interact with signage that is placed throughout the store transforming a regular shopping trip into an adventure.”
  • And because I am a sucker for funny marketing gimmicks that involves shocking shopper mall customers, watch this great video of augmented reality to promote Lynx body products for men.
  • For more examples of augmented reality in action, check out

Catherine Seeds is the Vide President of Ketner Group, a PR and marketing communications agency headquartered in Austin, TX.

Photo Credit: ZonkioDC 


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