At this week’s CES 2017 in Las Vegas, Google is making a big move into virtual shopping by announcing partnerships with BMW and Gap that leverage Tango, its augmented reality 3D-scanning device and part of a longer-term strategy to combine stellar mapping with robust commerce.
Tango deploys cameras and sensors in mobile devices to overlay digital images in physical space, epitomized by runaway mobile game Pokemon Go. As the technology market rises from about $5.2 billion in 2015 to $162 billion in 2020, IDC projects that car dealerships will be “one of the longer-term, more profitable use cases.”
BMW is partnering with Google to test a new app, the BMW i Visualizer, that displays an i3 city vehicle and i8 sports car on smartphone screens so shoppers can manipulate the images, walking around the car and placing a life-sized version in their garage or driveway while choosing from six different colors and four types of trims and wheels.
The innovative new technology means real-size 3-D vehicles can be visualized and explored and the color and trim configured instantly. As Stefan Biermann, BMW Group Head of Innovations Sales, BMW i, told Bloomberg, “It’s possible we’ll develop a kind of library of models for this app.”
As the car is viewed through the app, the virtual car moves in relation to how the user moves, opening doors, stepping inside, changing upholstery and dashboard colors and even turning on the radio, engine and lights. The virtual car specs created can be sent to a local dealership for purchase.
— The Google Car (@thegooglecar) January 5, 2017
“In our initial tests, as people entered the car virtually in the app, we saw them ducking down, as if there really were a roof there for them to bang their heads on,” said Andrea Castronovo, BMW group vice president of sales strategy and future retail, to VentureBeat. “It’s that level of detail which means this technology offers the customers real added value.”
“Our vehicles are emotional products and to get that emotional feeling, you really need to experience them,” Castronovo also commented in a press release. “In situations where the desired product isn’t available on the spot, this visualisation is the next best thing.”
BMW will make the app available at dealerships in 11 countries, where Product Geniuses will be provided with a Tango-enabled mobile device. Using this, they can then support customers to visualize and experience the BMW i products, using augmented reality to create a 3-D image which can be explored interactively: the customer can open the boot or the doors, even getting “inside” the car to take a closer look at the interior.
Eric Johnsen, Head of Business Development for Augmented Reality at Google, said, “The thing that sets Tango apart is the fact that it understands the context of the space that it’s in. So the wheels are really on the floor, for example, giving the whole experience a much more realistic feel.”
Once the pilot is successfully completed, Google plans to offer the app on Google Play so that customers with Tango-enabled devices can download it for use any time, any place. “We believe that over the next couple of years, the majority of premium Android devices will be Tango-enabled,” said Johnsen. “Augmented reality has such huge potential for retail, we’re just getting started.”
Gap is testing Google’s augmented reality technology in its new “try before you buy” tool to help customers check out new looks and items with what it’s calling the DressingRoom app, and to improve the browsing and shopping experience.
How it works, according to Gap Inc.: “Shoppers choose a Gap style that they might be interested in purchasing. Next, they select one of five body types featured in the app so they can “try on” the piece of clothing from anywhere on a Google Tango-enabled device, and if they love it, they can buy it online.”
Bloomberg sees the app as just the beginning: “It’s still incomplete for consumers that try the technology. With the mobile app for Gap, for instance, shoppers try on outfits using a 3D digital avatar, rather than superimpose the clothes on their bodies (as Toshiba showed at CES in 2015). The latter tactic might arrive eventually, but the tech needed is still in its infancy.”
For now, it creates a virtual extension of the dressing room and a seamless experience between Gap’s physical and digital stores, while also serving a purpose that’s aligned with Gap Inc.’s sense of purpose.
“The fashion industry has not traditionally been geared toward helping people understand how clothes will actually fit,” Gil Krakowsky, VP Global Strategy and Business Development at Gap, commented. “Gap is committed to winning customer trust by consistently presenting and delivering products that make customers look and feel great and we are using technology to get there.”
Krakowsky added that “Technology gives customers incredible autonomy around the shopping experience and it’s our responsibility to constantly explore new ways to make the shopping experience effortless and pursue solutions that will add value to the customer experience. The DressingRoom by Gap pilot app is just one element of our longer-term strategic plan in this space.”
The DressingRoom by Gap app was created in collaboration with Avametric, whose software generates the underlying 3D images, and works on all Tango-enabled phones. It will be available on Google Play at the end of January and pre-loaded on the Asus ZenFone AR.
As Google notes, the augmented reality app “takes the guess work out of apparel shopping. Developers from Avametric has created a way to visualize Gap’s clothing on virtual mannequins, allowing you to place these mannequins in your home and walk around them to see how the clothes look from every angle.”
“The move by Gap comes as shoppers spend less on clothing and more on experiences like beauty treatments,” AP observed. “When customers do buy clothes, they’re increasingly going online. Gap has also been struggling with a lack of compelling clothing, resulting in a long-standing sales slump.”
“Wayfair, Home Depot and other retailers have been embracing virtual reality and augmented reality to help shoppers figure out ways to decorate homes,” AP added. “But clothing retailers have been slow to embrace the technology. The question is whether it will be something more than just a gimmick.”
Find out more about Google’s Tango in the video below: