Augmenting the Local Shopping Reality

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Both augmented reality and virtual reality have their roots deep in the previous century, but it wasn’t until fairly recently that our mobile phones gave life to three-dimensional creations that seemed to waltz right out of our screens. And now, more recently, with bulky headsets, we can step into another world altogether with virtually rendered life all around us using technology like Oculus.

Many had their introduction to VR some 26 years ago when tech pioneer Jaron Lanier appeared with Ted Koppel on Nightline in a fascinating look at what was then at the bleeding edge. It’s remarkable to see how far (and in some ways not so far) we’ve come with the technology. (Also check out VR’s early days here.) I remember reading about the possibilities of VR at the time and how some were looking to blend the technology with what was then known as “wetwear” — hardware sometimes embedded under the skin to illicit entirely new experiences for the willing.

But coming back to actual reality for the moment many today are still struggling with the best use of virtual and augmented technology (AR/VR). We’ve seen advertisers frothing a few years ago at the prospects of augmented reality implementations and leaders like Yelp creating a virtualized floating universe of relevancy via their Monocle feature. And of course there’s Layar, an early leader in demonstrating augmented reality’s possibilities and now a platform provider empowering others to create.

But as with most new technology there are the tools and platforms, yes, but someone needs to create the content users are interacting with. One of those creators is Steve Dann, CEO of Amplified Robot, a UK-based AR and VR studio.

balloonDann, who will be a keynote speaker at Street Fight’s upcoming LOCALCON conference in London on April 22nd, had been at this for years when finally in 2013 he spun off Amplified Robot from his film and television visual effects company, Berwick Post, in response to what he called a huge demand for augmented reality content.

“It all started nine years ago when we were commissioned by one of our clients to work on a groundbreaking AR project,” Dann told Street Fight. “Back then, AR was just in its infancy and was only possible to create with the use of high-powered computers and cameras. At the time it was a steep technical and creative learning curve for us, but it was also in a way a natural progression from the Special Visual Effects and CGI (Computer Generated Imagery) that we had been involved in with our film and television work.”

“After this initial project, I was totally intrigued and hooked by the potential of this new medium of AR, and subsequently a few years later the potential of VR. Although it has taken time for both to evolve, I believe we are now at the tipping point where both AR and VR are set to become accepted into the mainstream and in a few years will play an integral part in all our lives.”

While Dann said he and his team have been creating white label AR and VR for  years, (primarily for the B2B and B2C markets), he’s now producing his own standalone projects and products, including those focused on local. It’s instructive to further define terms, particularly from Dann’s perspective.

“VR is totally immersive: when you put on the VR headset (Oculus, Samsung GEARVR, or Google Cardboard), we aim to transport you into a new, completely self-contained reality,” Dann said. “Whereas with AR you are still seeing the normal world around you, but with overlays of imagery integrated over the real world view.”

And how is all this “reality” going to affect local marketing for SMBs and their customers?

“I see the possibility of using VR to provide an attraction for customers, for instance creating theme park ride (or similar) experiences, that a take up very little floor space, or being able to view and select, via VR headsets, from a huge range of inventory that would otherwise that would otherwise be impossible to display,” Dann said.

“But it is with AR that I see greatest [local] opportunities,” said Dann. “At Amplified Robot we have, for instance, created and an amazing AR shopping experience called iRewards. Using your smartphone you can ‘find’ and redeem special discounts and offers that are ‘hidden’ at specific locations — this can be either on the street or inside shops. These discounts and offers can be micro-managed.”

The first execution of iRewards came in the form of iBalloon, an app Amplified Robot developed for the MK Centre, one of the UK’s largest shopping centers. Dann and team utilized AR, GPS, beacons, geo-tracking and artificial intelligence.

“The goal is to drive more foot traffic, dwell time and actual sales at the retail site,” said Dann.

“Our research has shown that brick-and-mortar retail sites are being used more and more by shoppers in a physical “try before you buy” scenario that ends up with them making the actual purchase on the Internet. If this trend continues then actual brick-and-mortar retail sites will become unviable. iRewards is cleverly designed to make sure that customers are not only attracted to and personally incentivized to visit retail sites, but also to make their purchases from those actual retail sites.”

But are customers really taking to the technology? “Initially it has proved quite difficult to get retailers to adopt this new ground breaking technology like iRewards.” said Dann. “However as general awareness of Augmented Reality and what this new medium is capable of has risen we have been getting more positive results.

Dann says he hopes to make iRewards “an essential and rewarding part of the shopping experience.”

“In the long term we aim to make the product even more useful to shoppers and retailers, by understanding the personal needs, requirements and data of each shopper, and relaying useful real time information to the retailer(s).”

Dann is currently in product expansion talks with mainly UK-based companies while also remaining open to expanding beyond Britain.

RickRRick Robinson is SVP of Product for on-demand roadside assistance startup He is also an advisor to Street Fight. Follow him at @itsrickrobinson


Hear more from Steve Dann and Amplified Robot at our upcoming conference on April 20-22 at the Chelsea Football Stadium in London. Click below for tickets!