Toys R Us hinges its future on augmented reality
Tuesday, October 03, 2017
Toys R Us, the big-box behemoth that long ruled from atop the toys and games mountain, became the latest retail victim of bankruptcy last month. As the company reorganizes, it's hinging a large part of its future on a slice of the future: augmented reality.
It's probably safe to say we've reached the point where augmented reality (AR) isn't necessarily a wave of the future, but rather a technology of the present. Both Apple and Google recently launched AR frameworks that will make it much easier for developers to incorporate and use the technology, which had its coming out party when Pokemon Go took the nation by storm in the summer of 2016.
Now, as brick-and-mortar retailers struggle for lifelines in the so-called retail apocalypse, some are hoping AR can be just that. There are a few things working in their favor.
First off, according to the most recent U.S. Department of Commerce report on e-commerce, less than 9 percent of total sales are made online. Clearly, that percentage is growing, but the overwhelming majority of purchases are still made at brick-and-mortar outlets.
Secondly, almost two-thirds of shoppers said their top reason for shopping in a brick-and-mortar location was to see, touch, feel or try out items.
Shoppers still like physical stores, as evidenced by e-commerce sites opening brick-and-mortar outlets. But as e-commerce increases its share of the retail pie and enhances its customer experiences, physical shopping experiences must break new ground and give customers a reason to continue coming in.
That's the thought process behind the new AR experience that debuted Monday at select Toys R Us stores across the country. After downloading a smartphone app called Play Chaser, users enter Toys R Us locations where they're initially greeted by store mascot Geoffrey, who instructs them how to play.
Flashing signs on the floor will route kids (or adults, right? I mean, come on, it's Toys R Us) to certain shelves or areas where scannable signs await. Once scanned, the signs unlock AR activities. As the shopper completes the tasks, additional content is unlocked. As if a warehouse full of toys wasn't enough, kids now have an experience to draw them into the stores.
"It's going to transform the experience of coming into a Toys R Us bricks and mortar store and turn it into something that's quite different and a lot more fun,'' CEO Dave Brandon told USA Today.
Toys R Us also plans to incorporate playrooms this fall, offering a place kids can get hands on with toys, games and gadgets.
It's all part of the reinvention of retail that has sellers of everything from clothing to electronics to office supplies trying to invigorate a fading way of life.
Toys R Us is by no means the first to try bringing technology to the forefront of its retail reimagining. Some online retailers were actually quicker to the AR punch, hoping to provide an experience that didn't necessitate a consumer entering a store to touch or try on the merchandise. Beauty and home goods vendors are probably the most notable, including Ikea and Sephora.
Ikea lets shoppers virtually see how furniture might look in their own rooms, while Sephora lets users try different shades of makeup before purchasing them — all through augmented reality.
But it's the physical stores now trying to catch up in the AR realm, hoping it can be a reason for shoppers to enter locations rather than avoid them. For example, The Gap debuted a virtual dressing room earlier this year, hoping to entice younger shoppers with a futuristic experience. Retail products, such as Lego, are using AR-powered kiosks to show kids 3-D models of the sets they're looking at on store shelves.
There are other ideas in the works that could add functionality to AR for shoppers beyond chasing virtual animals and gaming. At grocery stores, for example, AR-enabled smart glasses could highlight the exact items on shelves that you need for a certain recipe, or are on your shopping list.
There's little doubt of augmented reality's potential to be a useful and engaging technology for retail. But will it be enough to save iconic chains like Toys R Us?
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