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- 23 Jun 2010
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Can luxury retail find a future in Augmented Reality?

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Augmented Reality needs to move beyond a marketing gimmick for luxury retailers to truly harness its potential, says Holition’s Jonathan Chippindale

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Augmented Reality (AR) is a hot topic at the moment. Amongst others the success of James Cameron’s Avatar movie has introduced the third dimension to mainstream audiences across the globe, 3D soccer matches are being beamed live into bars and several brands now have an AR iPhone application available for download.

iPhone apps are fun and all the rage, but the technology within the iPhone (and soon the iPad) is not yet able to unlock the true potential of AR to the same extent a web-cam enabled shop display, home computer or laptop can. In essence AR enables the ability for a consumer to view themselves actually wearing a 3D virtual product in real-time; for example seeing a high quality rendering of a watch actually locked onto your wrist, a ring on a finger or a handbag over an arm – the product moving as you move. This means you can turn your wrist to view the buckle on a virtual watchstrap precisely as if you were wearing the real product. To get an idea of what this looks like, take a view at Tissot’s new Touch Collection AR application developed by Holition:

Of course the issue for us as luxury marketers is to understand what this technology might mean for brands. In an industry traditionally slow to adopt new technology, is AR merely a slick gimmick and a chance to ‘wow’ a consumer for a few brief moments, but too generic and shallow to deliver an experience up to the high standards demanded by luxury brands and their consumer-base?

One of the more prestigious and well respected AR blogs, Augmented Planet, held a symposium this week in London to discuss precisely these types of issues, albeit not specifically in the luxury sphere, and it was interesting to see one core theme starting to come through. There was a firm conviction, repeatedly championed, that the end game for this technology is to make all our lives better. Sounds trite? Well, it means that AR needs to move beyond merely being a marketing gimmick and a cheap and cheerful sales promotional tool, to being an indispensible part of any brands business model.

Similarly, a common theme from the event was the need for AR to migrate from ‘technology’ to ‘lifestyle’ use. It’s simply not enough to be able to do something extraordinary using a computer; it needs to be relevant to the product, loyal to its core business strategy and firmly embedded within a brand’s D.N.A. A ‘lifestyle’ positioning for AR may prove precisely the right tipping point required to persuade luxury brands to engage with this new great unknown.

 What this demonstrates is that the time is now for luxury brands to generate significant marketing opportunities using AR as an engine to deliver real and demonstrable business benefits. 

Clearly there is significant opportunity to use AR as a marketing tool, especially for those brands prepared to grab a first mover advantage. Tissot are currently generating significant noise by taking over a window at Selfridges in Oxford Street, one of London’s busiest thoroughfares, and giving consumers the opportunity to try on virtual watches from outside the store, seeing themselves wearing the virtual watches on large screens inside the window.

What this demonstrates is that the time is now for luxury brands to generate significant marketing opportunities using AR as an engine to deliver real and demonstrable business benefits. Imagine a retail store where the sales-team had access to an expanded inventory all of which could be worn virtually by consumers whether it was physically held in the store or not. Or the ability for a consumer to design and wear a product before it had even been produced. Premium brands are often required to send selections of high-value product to HNWI’s across the world, shipping and insuring the items at their own cost. AR could allow that customer to virtually wear and preselect only those items that are of genuine interest. These and other benefits all provide a quantifiable bottom line impact.

My final point is simply this. Luxury consumers are already digitally aware as 47% of mass-affluents within the UK currently interact with social media sites – actively blogging, tweeting and visiting social media sites like YouTube, Facebook and LinkedIn. They consume digital media from a wide variety of sources and will undoubtedly do so in the luxury sphere if the industry can find the right tools to communicate with them. AR may well prove to be the big idea that brings luxury squarely into the digital playground.

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Jonathan Chippindale, Marketing Director, Holition

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Holition creates 3D virtual reality applications that enable customers to ‘try on’ a virtual accessories and jewellery in real time on the web. Holition combines live video with high definition 3D products, technical specifications and branded media content, to create an interactive retail experience.

www.holition.com