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Could Augmented Reality Bring Shoppers Back to Stores?

A technology mash-up could breathe new life into stores, malls and other large indoor public places.

So far most applications of augmented reality (AR) involve temporarily placing virtual objects in a physical environment—like picturing how a new sofa would fit in your living room, for example. Having that virtual reference can help consumers make smarter purchasing decisions.

Then there’s wayfinding and indoor positioning—the science of navigating expansive environments and pinpointing exact locations inside. It’s a field that’s attracted considerable interest over the past several years, considering beacons as the possible panacea but abandoning that rather costly technology in favor of solutions that are more precise, lightweight and scalable.

What happens when you bring AR into wayfinding and indoor positioning? AR company Blippar did just that, elevating the way people can get around and experience an indoor environment. Blippar said its indoor visual positioning system lets consumers access augmented reality moments based on where exactly they are with the help of artificial intelligence and computer vision—and a smartphone.

This new system means shoppers walking into a mall could see the path to their desired destination virtually overlaid on their real-world environment, essentially guiding their footsteps to the right place via the most efficient route. It’ll reduce the aimless wandering, wrong turns and wasted energy common to mall trips. But Blippar said the real magic lies in creating AR experiences that consumers can permanently find at these indoor locations; for example, shoppers passing by a restaurant would see a virtual menu.

Blippar’s technology could bring some excitement back into physical shopping. The company’s demo video depicts an apparel store environment with a virtual customer review hovering over a rack of clothing. At the very least, that kind of virtual display would attract interest, if not drive interaction and conversion. Blippar noted that retailers could also use the technology to draw attention to specific sections of the store, driving traffic and ensuring shoppers are exposed to promotions.

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Because the technology applies to many kinds of large indoor environments—such as stadiums, airports and school campuses—that means warehouse workers would be a suitable candidate for AR-powered wayfinding, bringing an end to the days of combing aisles in search of one elusive SKU.

Blending AR with indoor positioning and wayfinding represents “another step towards [realizing] the transformational potential of augmented reality and computer vision and showcases more useful ways these technologies will improve our day-to-day lives,” Blippar CEO and co-founder Ambarish Mitra said.