Can Immersive Marketing Boost Local Businesses?

Share this:

As local businesses scramble to mitigate losses amid lockdowns, it is important to consider how technology can help. The past year has been good to many such tools, such as Slack, Zoom, and Shopify. This is what we’ve been calling “Covid-advantaged” tech.

One of the emerging technologies in that bucket is AR. For example, its ability to add real-life interactivity to e-commerce gained traction in 2020. This could extend to a post-Covid world of “touchless” retail for in-aisle virtual product interaction.

Meanwhile, when we look at “Covid-disadvantaged” areas of the economy, one standout is local businesses. Restaurants are especially hard hit, and they continue to scramble to implement digital tools to counterbalance the impact of lockdowns.

So the question is if any of the “Covid-advantaged” sectors (like software) can bring their mojo to “Covid-disadvantaged” sectors (like restaurants). One example is how order-ahead and curbside pickup systems are helping to keep restaurants and retailers humming along.

Self-Serve Restaurant Ordering in a Post-Covid World

Less-obvious evolutions

Beyond these well-known areas of SMB digital transformation, there are less obvious evolutions. Ten months into various stages of lockdown, we continue to see new and creative ways to empower local retailers and restaurant owners to engage sheltered and distanced customers.

This brings us back to AR. There are several potential ways that it can help businesses market products in more immersive ways or drive foot traffic via AR gaming. We recently examined the latter in GameStop’s partnership with Pokémon Go to drive foot traffic.

Since we wrote about that, another AR-related example caught our eye. Uptown Network launched a digital gift-giving format for restaurants, offering them a way to provide gift cards to their customers that feature AR-enabled opening experiences to infuse some interactivity.

Built with the help of Rock Paper Reality, the new program lets restaurant customers scan a code from restaurant signage or marketing materials. That lets them browse menus and choose dishes or items to gift, then send a personalized message. The recipient opens the gift through a mobile AR experience (see video below).

Can Mobile Gaming Boost Multi-Location Brands?


Uptown’s approach has a few advantages. For one, it can be delivered digitally so that the recipient gets it right away, as opposed to the delays that accompany a physical card sent by mail. It also sidesteps the impersonal aspects of digital gift cards — such as an Amazon gift card that unceremoniously lands in your inbox.

For the restaurants themselves, AR gift cards can be a way to alleviate cash flow shortages as both virus upticks and cold weather limit their service options. Selling future meals is one way to do that. And the AR gift-opening experience differentiates it in the above ways.

To make back-end integration easier, AR gifting can sync with POS systems. This offers some flexibility for restaurants, as the choices they offer to gift-givers can align with their existing channels. That could be gift cards, food delivery, or whatever they already offer.

Speaking of integration, AR gifting happens under Uptown Networks’ “Bring Your Own Menu” (BYOM) platform for QR-code-centric digital menus. This means Uptown has a distribution network in place for AR gifting. Two million people have used BYOM.

Can a Pandemic Inflect Local Commerce Tech?

The other side

Beyond restaurants, the AR-gifting format could extend to other verticals and product categories. Just as gifted future dining makes sense for satisfying consumers’ pent-up demand to get back to nightlife, the concept could resonate in similar spending categories like travel.

Stepping back, AR product visualization continues to counteract the distanced effects of lockdowns, bringing more real-life interactivity to e-commerce. This could sustain as consumers pick up new habits and as “touchless” retail merges with AR and other forms of digital interactivity.

Meanwhile, local businesses continue to scramble to survive, which includes picking up new digital tools.

We’ll continue to see creative applications of emerging tech to help these businesses weather the storm and make it to the other side. Once they develop a taste and competency for new digital tools, many will gain skills that give them an edge in the post-Covid world.

Mike Boland has been a tech & media analyst for the past two decades, specifically covering mobile, local, and emerging technologies. He has written for Street Fight since 2011. More can be seen at