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Stores to morph into media

The store as a medium is still a novel concept in South Africa, but the morphing of our upmarket stores into a new channel for media owners may only be months away, with augmented reality technology the principal change agent.

The prediction comes from Rafi Leigh, managing director of Special-fx, one of the country’s foremost developers of in-store special effects and display solutions, notably in fashion retailing.

Leigh believes media owners will be early AR users and retail brands will be eager collaborators.

He says proven AR technology is exciting huge interest among retailers, big brands and media companies following the watershed SIGGRAPH convention in Vancouver, Canada, in August.

SIGGRAPH is the world’s biggest annual showcase of computer graphics and related technology like AR.

The technology has strong appeal for retailers, advertisers and media owners as it enables additional sensory input such as sound, video, graphics, GPS data or other information to be integrated into a compelling digital brand presentation or product demonstration.

Leigh says: ‚AR obviously gives a major boost to experiential marketing trends and in-store staging. But the media industry will also see significant impacts, with AR-enabled stores becoming a form of media that will be tracked for measurable sales effectiveness and demographic penetration.‚

Before that can happen, AR-enriched displays will have to roll out across stores and malls.

Leigh believes deployment will happen sooner rather than later as significant commercial opportunities will rapidly become apparent.

He predicts wide-awake retail chains will see AR space outsourcing to media owners as a logical revenue-generating development that simply extends the accepted practice in-store floor-space franchising.

South Africa’s predicted focus on in-store applications may, however, represent a departure from some international AR trends.

‚Markets with big wifi coverage, ample bandwidth and free internet will probably focus on in-the-hand AR via smart phones as well as in-store AR,‚ explains Leigh. ‚Our bandwidth is not nearly so reliable and affordable.

‚Calling up product reviews on social media might be a popular American or European AR application, but fast, easy and affordable access like this is not yet the norm in South Africa.

‚A quality AR experience in store will be much easier to achieve and can add considerable value for consumers, stores, brands and media owners. So, in-store will drive a lot of our early AR action.‚

He believes any caution about new technology investments will recede once proven advertising impact is demonstrated.

Says Leigh: ‚Rapid recovery of initial costs will be a priority. Advertising revenue streams obviously enable amortisation of the initial investment in a manageable timeframe. At the very least, this will prompt strong early interest by media owners.

‚Retailers letting out in-store AR sites to media companies could also earn steady returns. This suggests collaboration is likely between stores, malls, media companies and perhaps some big brands.‚

Initial adoption of relatively simple AR solutions such as touch screens and information booths would contain costs. A second wave of sophisticated AR platforms could soon follow, perhaps featuring virtual cosmetic mirrors enabling consumers to view digital make-up on their digital faces or try out fashions on a digital avatar via a digital changing room.

In his view, at least three factors will drive early adoption:

§ Measurability through augmented data mining

§ Ease of integration into marketing tools like loyalty programmes: and

§ Purchasing convenience

Leigh notes: ‚AR can warehouse and manipulate information. It can tell you which items in a range were most frequently viewed and what colours or styles were called up most often.

‚You can also check what in-store display position triggered most product interest on the AR platform and what impact a mass media advertising campaign or special offer had on AR views.

‚These factors reinforce AR’s appeal for marketing and media strategists.‚

Links with loyalty programmes run by credit retailers would enable AR display users to access special offers while a ‚like-it-buy-it’ feature could add purchasing convenience after the incorporation of credit card security into the software.

‚AR offers the convenience of online shopping in combination with the pleasure of window-shopping and interaction inside the traditional store environment,‚ says Leigh.

Integration with loyalty programmes could also circumvent some privacy concerns relating to the deployment of AR techniques like ‚modelling’ to build a digital you, and ‚compositing’ and ‚presentation’ to clothe the same digital you and simulate other forms of interaction between a consumer’s digital alter ego and various products.

‚Stores won’t morph into AR-enabled media overnight and developments may not roll out across all retail categories,‚ predicts Leigh. ‚My best guess is that upmarket stores will be the first to showcase the new technology and fashion will be a key focus area.

‚Media owners looking at new ways of reaching the top LSMs with advertising for aspirational brands are obvious potential partners of these retailers. Big changes are in store ‚Ķ‚

* Follow Gadget on Twitter on @gadgetza

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