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Walmart exec: Augmented reality provides unique social interactions

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October 31, 2012

Walmart's Web-Slinger augmented reality app for the iPhone

While augmented reality provides an opportunity to create unique and entertaining engagement experiences, few marketers are leveraging it in any significant way. One exception is Walmart, which has run two large-scale AR promotions this year, with more likely to come.

Walmart’s use of augmented reality is an example of how the big box retailer is embracing mobile as it looks to engage customers via cutting-edge technology. The retailer is also active with mobile applications and on the mobile Web.

Here, Brent Duwe, director of entertainment property merchandising at Walmart, Bentonville, AR, discusses why augmented reality makes sense for the retailer and what it has learned from its efforts so far.

Why does augmented reality make sense for a big box retailer such as Walmart?
We are always looking for how we can connect with our customers in new and relevant ways. It just so happened with the programs that we put together for The Avengers and Spider Man movies that augmented reality really connected to the customer in a unique way.

It is something that we felt provided a lot of extra value to Walmart customers. It gave them a real reason to come and shop for their Spider-Man and Avengers needs at Walmart.

They came into the store and went around to different displays and when they used the app, it delivered added characters within in a game. Or in the case of the Avengers game we just finished up with recently, it actually gave a picture of their face on one of the Avengers bodies.

It gave them something really fun to share socially with their friends.

What learnings can you share from these augmented reality programs?
We didn’t set out with the goal of necessarily doing an augmented reality program, it just happens that we felt that it connected with the customer in this instance. What we really wanted to do is run a program that connected to the customer and added value for the customer.

What we have found is that when customers try it and they see how easy it is to do, they really like it. The results are promising.

I think there is still an awareness gap out there with customers as it pertains to augmented reality. I think a lot of them still don’t quite understand what it is or how it works. So, there is a little bit more involved in getting the awareness of what it is out there.


The Avengers augmented reality app

There is an adoption curve and I feel like we are still very early on in that adoption curve with this technology. We are much earlier on in the curve than I would say we are with some of the other forms of technology like a QR code and some of the more traditional methods.

What have you learned so far in terms of what works and what does not for augmented reality?
One of the things that really jumped out for us is the social element of it and how it really provides for a very unique social interaction for the customer.

When we launched our first app, it was very much geared toward a game and unlocking components within a game. We kind of had as a secondary function, this idea that you could get your picture taken with an augmented version of the characters. And that was the component that really seemed to get traction with the customers.

And, so we’ve pivoted a little with our more recent augmented reality apps to have them be more social in nature and basically give the customers an engagement point with their friends and family. So they come into the store now and rather than unlock components of the game, you are unlocking components that basically let you take a quiz that tells you which Avenger you most resemble and then you end up with a picture of yourself as that Avenger that you can share on Facebook or via email.

How does augmented reality fit into your overall marketing strategy?
It is a tactic within the strategy. It is an avenue to reach the customer in a unique way and just like any other tactic you have to understand if it is going to accomplish the overall objective or not. In the case of The Avengers and Spider-Man, we felt that it did.

It is an emerging tactic. I think it is something that as the customer learns about it and understands it more, it’ll continue to grow.

What are Walmart’s future plans to use augmented reality?
We’ll evaluate it as we put together our plans for future programs and make the determination if it is the right fit.

I think at the end of the day, it comes back to does it make sense for the customer of their category and that evaluation is going on across the board.

As it pertains to entertainment, we’ll take a look at it with future programs. I think there is a high likelihood we will use it again.

Final Take
Chantal Tode is associate editor on Mobile Commerce Daily, New York

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