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Google sets sights on augmented reality with Project Glass rollout

While consumers love augmented reality because of its futuristic promise to break down barriers between the physical and digital world, the technology has seen only limited use. Google can change all of that with its plans to introduce AR glasses.

Google created quite a stir recently when it announced Project Glass, which the company says will make augmented reality glasses available to consumers later this year. The glasses will enable users to accomplish many of the same tasks that they can currently do via a smartphone but with the data hovering in front of them as they schedule meetings, take pictures or check the weather using their voice.  

There certainly is a ‘Wow’ factor at play and Virgin Digital and the Harry Potter franchise have made great use of this technology to advance their brands in the minds of the consumers,” said Dr. Gary Edwards, chief customer officer at Empathica, Mississauga, Canada.

“I think we are going to see more and more augmented reality in stores in the coming years and we are going to see applications continue to bridge the divide between how a product looks in a store with how it would look as part of the consumer’s life,” he said.

“An obvious extension would be in the clothing industry but we are also going to see this going into diverse categories as appliances – how would this new dishwasher look in my kitchen? – to automobiles – how would this car look with the upgraded rims?”

A new reality
Given the potential offered by augmented reality and Google glasses to excite shoppers and engage them in real time, those retailers with mature mobile programs may find it worthwhile to investigate pilot projects based on these advances.

Already, there are signs that merchants are interested in AR.

Last year, Macy’s used augmented reality in stores to enable shoppers to photos of themselves with the animated stars of a Make-A-Wish Foundation campaign.

More recently, U.S. Bank began piloting an AR smartphone app that enables users to point their smartphone at the horizon and see an animated image showing the bank branches and ATMs in view. The financial institution is using the app to lay the groundwork for possible future initiatives such as being able to deliver local offers to mobile users.

The growth in mobile has forced retailers to consider new strategies for engaging consumers, including reaching them with special offers and other information when they are in the proximity of a store. Augmented reality glasses could further drive the need for such strategies.

“As we’ve begun to see with mobile devices in general, the geofencing of store, product and offer information will become more and more necessary, and the need to personalize that information based on the user and associated conditions will become not only more important, but more possible,” said Tom Nawara, vice president of emerging solutions and innovation at Acquity Group, Chicago.

“Forget QR codes – think AR tags on products that are optimized for Google glasses and assist finding the way within stores,” he said. “I envision a not-so-distant future with personalized AR product placement in televised material, and that’s just the start.”

Location integration
Some of the ways that augmented reality glasses could be used by retailers and brands would be for product demonstrations, animated print advertisements and guidance to the next store.

Additionally, based on a users’ context, brands can provide specific product offers to customers when they are in the vicinity of a store — through in-store guidance systems and location based offerings.

One possible and interesting integration could be between augmented reality glasses and location-based services such as foursquare.  

“Customers most likely will use Google glasses when they want to know something about a specific product, need guidance and orientation to find a product, or as inspiration when walking around town — imagine a combination with Foursquare for instance,” said Stephan Schmidt, vice president of product strategy at hybris, Chicago.

“I expect mash-ups of location based services — such as Foursquare, Facebook, Instagram, and product and location information — which will hopefully make a purchase decision simpler and straight forward,” he said. “For example: Does this piece of furniture fit into that corner in my house, how much curtain do I need for the size of my window and how do I assemble this?”

Another application of the technology would be to model fashion items for customers while they are in a store.

For example, a man could use the Google glasses technology to stream a video to his wife on how he looked in a new suit to make sure he was not committing a fashion faux pas.

“This would be a great extension to the relatively limited check-in capabilities available with services like Foursquare and Facebook with the capability for real-time interaction,” Empathica’s Dr. Edwards said.

Hurdles exist
Despite the opportunities, augmented reality glasses are still another technology hurdle retailers have to deal with by creating another touch point and another channel to sell through.

For some, this may be enough reason to take a wait-and-see approach to Google glasses. In fact, those retailers who do not currently have a strong multichannel strategy might be better off continuing to focus on addressing the core needs of consumers across channels before jumping into more cutting-edge projects.  

While Google says it is planning to release the high-tech glasses later this year, industry experts insist there are still numerous technical barriers that need to be overcome before this is possible. As a result, it may be a couple of years before a working version of the glasses is available.  

“There are a number of hurdles Google must overcome to make this an attractive product for customers – for example, the style, weight, battery power, video quality, etc. must be aligned to have a product that may end up being as much about fashion as the capabilities itself,” Dr. Edwards said.