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Walgreens pilots Google’s Project Tango for ubiquitous augmented reality experiences

June 27, 2014

For the first time, aisle411's indoor maps within retail stores are combined with Google's Project Tango 3D computer vision technology

For the first time, aisle411’s indoor maps within retail stores are combined with Google’s Project Tango 3D computer vision technology

Walgreens is piloting Google’s new virtual indoor mapping technology that delivers personalized and discoverable rewards to shoppers using augmented reality for a bricks-and-clicks experience.

Through a partnership with aisle411, an in-store mobile marketing platform, Walgreens will leverage a new gamified functionality solution to allow mobile-equipped shoppers using Google’s Project Tango to search and navigate to product locations while receiving instant and relevant product details and promotions that pop out of shelves along their in-store route. Project Tango technology is being piloted in multiple locations with major retailers over the coming months, all with unique 3D augmented reality indoor maps and other engaging in-store experiences.

“Stores and brands can leverage this to create a branded destination experience with the store, rewarding shoppers for visiting stores and thereby driving store traffic,” said Nathan Pettyjohn, CEO at aisle411, St. Louis.

“This changes the definition of in-store advertising in two key ways: advertising becomes an experience – imagine children in a toy store having their favorite toy guide them through the store on a treasure hunt in the aisles of the store – and the end-cap is everywhere; every inch of the store is now a digital end cap, allowing augmented information to be displayed on any shelf, specific to the person standing in front of it,” he said.

Multichannel retail support
While in-store shopping accounts for 92 percent of retail volume according to Forrester, consumers expect the same levels of personalization and customization that they do when they shop online. Nearly 58 percent of consumers want to get in-store product information and 19 percent are already browsing their mobile devices while in-store.

Fully unveiled at the Google I/O Developer Conference on June 25, Google’s Project Tango is a new technology used for creating 3D maps of indoor spaces with the ability to show a user’s precise location and orientation within centimeters of accuracy.

Google's Project Tango

Google’s Project Tango

Aisle411 is harnessing the Project Tango tech and integrating it with its inventory of searchable indoor maps for retailers. The combined solutions from Project Tango and aisle411 allow users to search and navigate to specific products in a 3D augmented reality experience inside the store. Users of aisle411’s in-store mobile marketing platform can also simultaneously discover personalized coupons, offers and rewards along with collecting loyalty rewards just for walking down aisles.

Aisle411 assist

Aisle411 assist

In recent years, augmented reality has become increasingly popular as smartphone adoption and demand essentially has evolved the once simplistic hardware into small-scaled computers filled with motion sensors, and more so have become the ideal platform for creating relatively inexpensive augmented reality applications.

Smart shopping
While aisle411 is certainly innovative, it is not the only AR retail collaboration in operation.

IBM Research developed a similar application in 2012 and just partnered with Britain-based grocer Tesco earlier this year to roll out a personalized shopping experience with immediate product comparisons and special offers to customers as they move throughout the store.

The app captures images through the built-in video camera on a user’s smartphone or tablet and uses advanced image processing tech to swiftly and accurately identify a product or row of items. Once the application distinguishes the products, it will display information above the product images and rank them based on a number of criteria, such as price or nutritional value.

For example, IBM said a shopper looking for breakfast cereal could specify they want a brand low in sugar, highly rated by consumers and on sale. As the shopper pans the mobile device’s video camera across a shelf of cereal boxes, the augmented reality shopping app will reveal which cereals meet the criteria and also provide a same-day coupon to entice the shopper to make a purchase.



Digital learnings
Mobile continues to play a key role in how Walgreens drives in-store traffic to its more than 8,600 locations in the United States. Based on surveys that Walgreens has run among app users, 55 percent of app owners use it while in-store during 2013, which is up 42 percent last year.

Tim McCauley, senior director of mobile commerce at Walgreens said that the drugstore uses its New York-based Duane Reade stores to test new innovations that can then potentially scale company-wide, during last month’s Mcommerce Summit: State of Mobile Commerce 2014 in New York.

Its recent iBeacon pilot is being used as part of a bigger in-store mobile coupon initiative that lets consumers digitally clip coupons and redeem them via a bar code on a smartphone (see story).

The idea is that iBeacon will help consumers remember old coupons that they may have saved a couple of weeks ago from the app.

Using profiled and personal information gathered from shoppers, marketers can gain greater insight on the preferences and habits of their customers, as well which areas of a store either exceed or lack in expectations.

This valuable data can relay better store layout or organization and business practices can be adjusted accordingly.

Unified Grocers announced earlier this month that it will install beacons in select West Coast locations to mimic ecommerce experiences in physical stores by transmitting custom coupons, loyalty rewards and shopping list reminders directly to mobile phones (see story).

Keyring for Unified Grocers

Keyring for Unified Grocers

Operating off the inMarket Mobile to Mortar beacon platform, which distributes branded companion apps that utilize the technology, Unified Grocers is equipped to create futuristic shopping experiences that bridge communications between the retailer and a generation of mobile users.

Much like how ecommerce retailers analyze digital data via mouse tracking, mapping and engagement rates per click, physical stores are beginning to implement similar best practices with beacons and AR.

Exploring merchandise in aisle with an accompanying app is already a reality in many retail settings, as Staples and Nordstrom currently leverage mobile as a communicative gateway to send offers and dissect shopping habits.

When combined with digital technology, real-world shopping experiences can be enhanced and inspired by online strategies for guided navigation and a medium from which personalized offers can be delivered to.

Traditionally, shoppers have been classified by broad demographics, but soon will be able to engage in a 3D shopping experience that is customized, and enables them to act on relevant deals and special offers in real-time. By providing in-store shoppers with the same kind of personalized information that online shoppers receive, merchants can leverage Big Data to cater to individual needs on a more intimate level, and evolve marketing into a convenient and looked-forward to service for consumers.

“Shoppers can now get an immersive game-like experience in the store with augmented reality,” Mr. Pettyjohn said.

“For example, an augmented celebrity could be waiting in an aisle endorsing the latest product on the shelf next to them. Retailers can redefine the store experience merging the best in digital and physical worlds.”

Final Take
Michelle is editorial assistant on Mobile Commerce Daily, New York

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Michelle Saettler is editorial assistant on Mobile Commerce Daily and Mobile Marketer, New York. Reach her at

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