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How mobile image recognition enhances in-store shopping

Much of the excitement around image recognition technology and smartphones has focused on augmented reality. However, there is significant untapped potential in leveraging image recognition to add services to what shoppers see in stores.

Retailers are expected to begin using image recognition within the next few years to help enhance in-store customer service, and potentially address showrooming, by enabling shoppers to scan an item with an app and pull up current inventory. Such an app could also recommend similar shoes that are available and enable users to purchase an item and have it brought directly to them by a sales associate.

“IR puts help in the hand of the consumer and delivers it in moments that they need,” said Landis White, chief technology officer at Parallel 6, San Diego. “This can help to reduce cost floor staff by allowing customers to get information through mobile devices and help customers understand product differences or get technical help straight from the manufacturer

“It can also help customers know if inventory of product is in-store and/or see other colors or configurations,” he said. “It also allows brands to track taps, scans, geolocation and level engagement around products.”

In the cloud
By enhancing the in-store experience, image recognition can help merchants retain sales from shoppers who compare prices online via their smartphones.

Current mobile marketing technologies such as QR codes and digital watermarks enable some of these interactions today, but are more limited in scope.

For many marketers, image recognition may be preferable than QR codes, which must be incorporated into marketing materials and can detract from campaign imagery.

Augmented reality implementations are also limited because they rely on a limited set of predefined trigger images stored in a database and require users to download a mobile application.

While augmented reality leverages image recognition, pure image recognition implementations has fewer limitations.

“Since image recognition is connected to the cloud, it is more effective because a wider variety of content can be accessed by a user and shared by the brand,” Mr. White said. “Image recognition can also scan a logo and bring up a YouTube video.

“IR is more accessible for our clients because it can be maintained by a marketing admin by simply adding content via the mobile CMS,” he said.

Character recognition
One example of where image recognition is currently being used outside of augmented reality is leveraging Optical Character Recognition technologies to recognize text within images.

This enables marketers to create programs tied to purchases that are validated by a shopper taking a photo of their receipt to prove they purchased a particular product.

Snipp Interactive is working on a program with Walmart and EA Games where consumers have to purchase the new Madden Football Game for the Xbox along with a qualifying snack product to receive back a $10 gift code to Walmart.

Walmart has been a leader in leveraging image recognition technology, with several augmented reality campaigns under its belt already.

Snipp worked on a similar effort from Arm & Hammer where shoppers could take photos of two boxes of the brand’s baking soda and their receipt to receive a $10 savings code from

Image recognition could similarly be used for lottery purchases, coupon processing and rewards codes.

Easy set up
Another example of image recognition’s potential is using facial recognition to authenticate payments or other transactions.

The technology can also be used to recognize brand logos to drive brand associations. For example, Pepsi and Doritos asked shoppers last year to take a photo of a product and send it the advertiser to receive a free gift.

Oreo also did a campaign urging consumers to take a photo of the packaging to receive back additional content.

“It was a small scale campaign, but very easy for the brand to set up and take down as there was no need for any change to packaging at all, and all the messaging happened through social media,” said Ritesh Bhavnani, chairman and co-founder of Snipp Interactive, Bethesda, MD.

While there are still some technological hurdles that that need to be overcome before something like Google Glass can be used to recognize any image, image recognition is expected to play a bigger role in how merchants and brands interact with consumers over the next few years.

“In many ways, true image recognition is the holy grail for mobile marketing, because it is based on the most natural of human interactions – that of seeing something – an object, a product, and processing it for what it is,” Mr. Bhavnani said. “The ability for advertisers to add context or service interactions to what a consumer sees on TV, in a magazine or out in the real world  is really powerful.

“Imagine being able to hold your phone camera in front of a movie trailer and immediately ordering tickets, or in front of a new watch and being able to buy it,” he said.

“Google and Facebook and others are working on more broad based image search capabilities that come closer to the ultimate vision of consumers being able to hold a phone in front of anything they see and get contextual and relevant information about that.”

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