Toys R Us has launched a new augmented reality app called Play Chaser that is now available via free download, and is also being tested in 23 of the retailer’s stores around the U.S., according to a company blog post.
The app was created in partnership with digital game developer PlayFusion, and uses PlayFusion’s proprietary computer vision technology to activate different AR games and play experiences on smartphones or tablets by scanning Play Chaser signs located in the participating Toys R Us stores.
The app is now available for download in the Apple App Store, Google Play or Amazon Appstore. Beyond the initial 23-store test, the app will be available in all Toys R Us stores nationwide starting Oct. 21. Customers who download the app between Oct. 20 and Oct. 28 will be eligible to enter a Play Chaser Sweepstakes, with 2,000 entrants receiving a $25 Toys R Us gift card and one winning a grand prize trip for four to the Nickelodeon Resort in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic.
Seeing a new AR app emerge is starting to seem like business as usual. Since Apple rolled out its iOS 11 software upgrade last month to work with apps built using its ARkit, several new AR apps have been released by retailers, although mostly in the home décor and home improvement markets.
What's surprising about this launch is that it comes from a toy retailer, which as a group has been slow to adopt AR. The Star Wars Force Friday app drove in-store traffic for Walmart, Target and Toys R Us, and Gamestop did figure significantly in the success of Pokemon GO, and greatly benefited from it, but it wasn't the retailer's app.
Perhaps an even bigger surprise is that this app was not created with Apple ARkit or Google Tango, the AR development kits from the giants behind iOS and Android, respectively. Instead, Toys R Us partnered with PlayFusion to create an app for iOS, Android and even Amazon devices. A Toys R Us spokeswoman told Retail Dive via e-mail that the retailer decided to work with PlayFusion because it wanted an app that would work across both iOS and Android devices.
This app also has an in-store integration aspect that most AR apps, designed to help people shopping online or on mobile, just don't have. For example, one game in the app includes a virtual basketball hoop that kids can shoot at solo or alongside friends while in Toys R Us stores. Another takes them to a baby nursery where they can select a unique, digital You & Me doll, take it home and care for it. The retailer's Geoffrey the Giraffe made the AR cut, too. He appears on it to welcome customers to the store, explain the app and send kids on their quest for in-store play.
It's striking that this app is coming from a retailer that just weeks ago filed for bankruptcy protection, but the toy store is continuing to look ahead at how it might use new technologies to get customers back into stores. There's not an obvious connection, at least in the retailer's explanation, between the Play Chaser app and the ability to use AR to make a specific purchase decision, but perhaps the new take on AR will help Toys R Us stand out in a suddenly crowded AR landscape.
Overall, it's an interesting AR development that could be worth watching as other retailers try to figure out how they want to use the technology.