The 3 Rules of Augmented Reality

One of the biggest frustrations brick and mortar retailers in the age of the smartphone is how to get Millennials and other mobile-first shoppers to come into physical stores. Then, this past July, the Pokémon Go augmented reality (AR) app delivered them in droves.

If retailers want to better understand that phenomenon and how they can best use the technology to their own benefit, they need to grasp what it was about the AR that made the app so appealing in the first place.

The research firm Forrester found, in the week after Pokémon Go launched, that daily mentions of AR on social channels had increased to more than 150,000. The app, Forrester reported, was an example of what happens when “simple, seamless and emotionally rewarding” AR is put into people’s hands. Those three elements are key for retailers intent on using this technology, either in their own apps or by leveraging a third-party app like Pokémon Go.


Pokémon Go keeps players captivated for hours, but not because finding and catching their prey is a laborious process. If you’ve ever watched someone play, the process is simple: Point your phone at the Pokémon, flick a ball at it, done. It can take as little as a few seconds. Retailers who want to use AR apps need to make sure customers don’t have to take any more steps than absolutely necessary to get what they need to make a purchase decision.


Another area where Pokémon Go shines is that people don’t have to interrupt their routine to play the game. You can play it while you’re commuting on the subway, or eating lunch, or in line at the bank. You don’t have to set aside time for it. That’s an experience your customers will appreciate, as well – if your app gives them what they need anywhere, anytime, it’s going to be more appealing for them.


The emotional payoff in Pokémon Go is what keeps users coming back. There’s a sense of accomplishment and a shared experience with other players.

Of course, just having AR in your app won’t win over customers if they aren’t engaged by it. Consider the first dedicated shopping app using AR, which debuted in 2012: it let you scan store shelves to learn about products and get coupons. How “emotionally rewarding” must that have been? (Rhetorical question, don’t answer.)

Successful retailers already know how to create a great experience for customers, and they need to apply that same approach to an AR app. IKEA’s 2014 digital catalog app, for example, featured an interface that allowed users with mobile devices to see how its furniture would look in their homes. People could virtually redecorate by moving the items around, changing styles and colors, and getting a bird’s-eye view. It was easy to use and rewarded IKEA’s customers in ways that wouldn’t have been possible without the AR element.

My App or Yours?

The barrier to entry for technology like AR continues to get lower, but retailers still must weigh the costs and benefits of exactly how they will make use of it – including whether to have their own AR app developed, or to leverage the success of third-party apps.

Having a custom AR app developed isn’t typically an option because bankrolling your own development team, as the big national chains can afford to do, is extremely expensive, but it gives you complete control over the final product. Meanwhile, in developing Pokémon Go, Nintendo provided ways for both players and retailers to grab onto its coattails. Users could purchase inexpensive “lures” to attract more Pokémon to their location, and retailers could become part of Nintendo’s sponsored location program and pay a cost-per-visit fee.

Relying on someone else to bring in your customers, of course, is risky. The ROI of this Pokémon Go model is still unclear; while one report found that an Atlanta coffee shop saw a 400 percent ROI from purchasing lures, most other evidence is anecdotal. Retailers must weigh the advantages – such as the fact Pokémon Go was downloaded 7.5 million times in its first week, proving it had a huge audience – with the uncertainty factor of whether the monster-chasers that came in their doors would walk out with more than a captured Pikachu.

Mobile apps are solidifying their position as the preferred way people interact with their world; more than half the hours Americans spend with digital media are on mobile devices, and nearly three-quarters of American adults own a smartphone. Reaching people through their devices will only become more essential for retailers, and it’s the retailers who look to the deeper lessons of offering simple, seamless and emotionally rewarding AR that will reap the greatest benefit going forward.

Paul Mandeville is CPO of QuickPivot