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Augmented reality augments shopping via print catalogs

While it is increasingly common to find QR codes in print catalogs, the next phase in mobilizing print to enhance cross-channel experiences could be augmented reality.

As consumers become more comfortable using their mobile phones for a variety of activities, augmented reality has become more popular, including with retailers such as Walmart. During the recent holiday season, cataloger Ballard Designs also jumped into augmented reality with a catalog that enables users to hold their phone above a catalog page to find out more and make a purchase.

“We knew the key to success was making sure that it was a frictionless and easy experience for the end-user, and this is what we focused on,” said Bryon Colby, senior vice president of digital commerce for Ballard Designs parent company Cornerstone Brands, West Chester, OH.

“Users don’t want to dedicate time to learning how to use a new app and downloading QR readers is an extra step they shouldn’t be forced to take,” he said.

“All the user has to do is open the Ballard+ app, hold it up to any product in the print catalog and they can instantly read reviews, add it to their cart, share the item, save it in their favorites area, or see additional content not available in the print catalog.”

Best of two worlds
While consumers like catalogs because they provide an immersive shopping experience, they are also a static medium.

With consumers increasingly sitting on the couch thumbing through catalogs with a smartphone or tablet within arm’s reach, catalogers are looking to mobile as a way to make catalog shopping a more interactive experience.

“With the Ballard+ Catalog Companion App, consumers get the best of both the print and digital worlds,” Mr. Colby said. “At Cornerstone Brands we’re focused on transforming and evolving the traditional print catalog experience and we feel that the Ballard+ app is an important step in making this happen.”

Ballard Designs teamed with Marxent Labs to develop the Ballard + mobile app, which leverages image recognition technology.

The Ballard + app enables users to hold their iPhone or iPad above a page of the catalog to activate the app. When they do, a box will encompass each item on the page on their screen which users can tap to see more information about the product. Users can also tap a purchase button and items will be put in their shopping cart.

Print shopping evolves
Currently, the Ballard+ Catalog Companion App is in a soft launch period.

In the first quarter of 2013, Ballard Designs will be rolling out product video and exclusive content to the app. It will also use augmented reality to extend the product assortment available in print catalogs.

The Ballard + app is compatible with the iPhone 4/4S, 5, iPad 2, iPad with Retina display and iPad mini.

The app was built on Marxent Labs’ VisualCommerce platform.

“Other catalog apps have used simple links to product pages, but Ballard+ Catalog Companion App uses comprehensive e-commerce integration that actually resolves to SKU,” said Beck Besecker, CEO of Marxent Labs, Kettering, OH.

VisualCommerce provides in-app analytics so retailers can see exactly which pages and products were viewed and for how long, along with which products were tapped. This data can help retailers to tie print browsing behavior to ecommerce cart size and other measurable outcomes.

Augmented reality can also be used by catalogers to add product content to print such as ratings, reviews and additional views, enabling them to keep printing and postage costs down.

“We are just on the cusp of the retail industry recognizing that there are a lot of ways to digitally enhance the multi-channel catalog shopping experience beyond just creating a digital catalog online,” Cornerstone Brands’ Mr. Colby said.

“There is a lot of runway for things to happen and we are excited to see how augmented reality-enhanced shopping will evolve the print shopping experience going forward,” he said.

Final Take
Chantal Tode is associate editor on Mobile Commerce Daily, New York