It's hard to say which is cooler news out of IBM's research labs — the development of plastic ninjas to destroy deadly bacteria, or the news that it's testing augmented reality shopping, "like applying search or a personalized version of Google Goggles to the world of physical store shelves,” as Ad Age puts it.
IBM's mobile app acts like a personal shopping assistant, giving consumers personalized product information while they browse. Consumers download it, then input selection criteria, such as, a low-sugar, high-fiber breakfast cereal, then pan the shelves with their mobile device’s camera across the cereal shelf to identify products that match.
When the app recognizes a product, the AR technology overlays digital details on the image, such as price, ingredients, and discounts, even providing same-day coupons and loyalty points.
"This will help you make a very accurate and precise decision relative to the criteria you have," commented John Kennedy, VP of corporate marketing for IBM Research, to ClickZ.
The app technology recognizes shapes, colors and other features through advanced image processing, and the retailer's computer system, powered by IBM Smarter Commerce software, delivers the information to the user’s mobile device. The software “provides a single view of the customer, inventory orders and shipments,” notes ClickZ.
"At this point, it's a demonstration of a really interesting technology that starts to provide a glimpse of how shopping will evolve. There's more work to be done on the implementation and roll-out. The goal for IBM is that this would be another aspect of our relationship with retailers."
IBM is betting that the data the app delivers will provide retailers with valuable insights into consumer behavior. Customer preferences would be stored and used on subsequent trips, building an individual preference profile, and before purchase, users can check reviews and comments from their social networks.
The app, developed by IBM researchers in Haifa, Israel, "marries the wealth of information on the web so the shopping experience becomes more informative and personal to help them make better decisions. It opens questions about what can happen in the relationship between the retailer and shopper and ultimately the [brand] marketer," Kennedy told Ad Age.
IBM is leapfrogging QR Codes and barcodes with the one-time setup that requires little infrastructure investment, no manpower for multiple-store installation, and lets shoppers register via telephone or loyalty-card number.
Shopping is "something we do every day. The information is embedded on the product itself, so it's more like a natural behavior," said Kennedy, adding that marketers can make special offers available via AR based on shoppers' expressed preferences. "And the information you see is a function of what you're looking for," not pre-selected by retailers or marketers.
The app is still in development, but IBM is confident it "addresses the fundamental gap between the wealth of readily available product details on the Web that in-store shoppers don't have access to, despite the fact that in-store shopping accounts for more than 92 per cent of the retail volume."
"It's also a way for a retailer to target and change behavior, and get some cross-selling and up-selling going with consumers," said Jill Puleri, IBM retail vice president. "We have found in our research that consumers have a huge open-mindedness about sharing information about themselves if they get something of value back,” and this solutions-based approach "gives the customer to the first right to market. It will give them a competitive advantage."
Click here for IBM's infographic on its AR shopping app test.