NRF 2016 showcases augmented reality’s place in retail

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By Brian T. Horowitz, Editor and Contributing Writer

The retail industry is merging reality with the virtual world to give shoppers a taste of what they could have, such as what a new couch might look like in their living room.

Augmented reality “adds something virtual to the real world” so users can see what their purchases would actually look like through their smartphones, tablets or smart glasses, noted Yoni Nevo (above), CEO and co-founder of Cimagine Media.

Nevo participated in a session called “Seeing Is Believing/ The Latest in Augmented Reality and Image Production Technology” at the 2016 National Retail Federation conference on Jan. 18 in New York City.

“The real value [of augmented reality] is enriching the real world,” Nevo said.

Computer-generated objects are added to an environment using a device with a camera, such as a smartphone, tablet or smart glasses. Then computer vision algorithms and sensors enable the device to add objects digitally within them.

Revenue for augmented and virtual reality, which can provide a virtual shopping experience with head-mounted devices, will hit $120 billion by 2020, according to consulting firm Digi-Capital.

Lifelike visualization

Cimagine offers a software-as-a-service platform that lets retailers add a single line of code to their online stores. The button will then allow shoppers to add items to images of their office or home.

The camera on a mobile device “scans the room and adds a virtual product, putting the right product in the right place,” Nevo said.

The requirements for developing the Cimagine platform were that it make the product look appealing and provide a “lifelike visualization,” Nevo said.

“We had to support 10 times better resolution to allow the product to look good so people will want to buy it,” he said.

Nevo also wanted to enhance engagement by working in more easy-to-install buttons. A Visualize button opens a Cimagine augmented reality viewer, which opens the video camera on a mobile device. The camera scans the rooms and adds a virtual product to scale. Users can then move it around, rotate it, change colors and view related items.

Companies such as Coca-Cola and U.K. retailer John Lewis are using Cimagine to augment their customers’ experiences by adding 3-D imagery to a store environment.

Augmenting reality with Coca-Cola coolers

Cola-Cola salespeople take a tablet to potential customers and have them add an image of the cooler to a picture of their store or office and envision where the Coca-Cola machine should go, such as in Walmart or McDonald’s. The Cimagine app allows Coca-Cola customers to augment their environments with a soda cooler.

The experience gives consumers more confidence in their purchasing decisions, Nevo said.

By implementing Cimagine’s technology, Coca-Cola sales reps were able to boost sales of coolers and equipment by 20 percent, according to Coca-Cola.

Coca-Cola is testing the technology with a convenience store in Tel Aviv, Israel.

“I just opened the app on my phone and showed [the customer] exactly what the cooler would look like,” Gabby Czertok, co-founder and general manager of the company’s commercialization program The Bridge, told Coca-Cola’s Innovation blog.

Augmented reality and personalization

Creating a personalized experience will be essential to greater adoption of augmented reality experiences, according to James Ingram (below), CEO ofSplashlight, a company that offers photography and video production services to fashion brands.

“You can’t compete without personalization,” Ingram said at the NRF panel on augmented reality.

Splashlight works with a company called Looklet, which allows a fashion brand to shoot one image of a model and then add additional images with multiple styles of clothing. Retailers then load the additional images into their CRM database.

“We’re talking about shooting a product one time,” Ingram said. “We know that more content appeals to more people.”

Retailers can create 28 images front and back from only one image, Ingram added.

Although companies such as Cimagine offer the augmented reality experience using a tablet, others such as Magic Leap are developing similar technology using a VR headset and building an operating system for augmented reality. Unlike Oculus Rift, Magic Leap will blend AR images with those from the real world.

Perhaps AR products will have the potential to help retailers influence shoppers to buy with “almost reality” imagery.

“We’re helping augmented reality become reality using today’s devices and future devices coming out to enhance the user experience,” Nevo said.

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