IBM Labs pitches the future of augmented reality shopping with mobile app prototype

Zachary Lutz
Z. Lutz|07.02.12

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IBM Labs pitches the future of augmented reality shopping with mobile app prototype

From the same company that brought you the ThinkPad and the tank of a keyboard known as the Model M, today IBM is demonstrating its latest consumer development: a mobile shopping app. As odd as that sounds, it's no secret that Big Blue employs some rather brilliant folk, and now the company is looking to combine augmented reality with your everyday shopping habits. While still merely a prototype, the app will allow consumers to pan product aisles with their smartphone camera and view additional details on the screen. As IBM puts it, shoppers may input their own needs and preferences into the app, which can accommodate a wealth of information such as allergens, sugar content and bio-degradable packaging. Through partnerships with retailers, IBM also hopes to integrate promotions and loyalty schemes into the app, which it states will help stores better understand the buying habits of individual consumers. So there you have it, the future of shopping, as brought to you by IBM. As for the full PR, you'll find it after the break.

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Made in IBM Labs: New Augmented Reality App To Give In-Store Shoppers Instant Product Details and Promotions in the Palms of Their Hands

YORKTOWN HEIGHTS, N.Y., July 2, 2012 – IBM (NYSE: IBM) Research scientists today unveiled a first-of-a-kind augmented reality mobile shopping app that will make it possible for consumers to pan store shelves and receive personalized product information, recommendations and coupons while they browse shopping aisles.

Upon entering a store, consumers download the app on their smart phone or tablet, register, and create a profile of features that matter to them - from product ingredients that could trigger an allergy, to whether packaging is biodegradable. When they point their device's video camera at merchandise, the app will instantly recognize products and, via augmented reality technology, overlay digital details over the images - such as ingredients, price, reviews and discounts that apply that day. If consumers opt in, information from their social networks can be integrated into the information stream. For instance, if a friend had reviewed or made a comment about a product they're looking at, they'll see it.

Using IBM's prototype app, shoppers looking for breakfast cereal could specify they want a brand low in sugar, highly rated by consumers - and on sale. As a shopper pans the mobile device's camera across a shelf of cereal boxes, the augmented shopping app reveals which cereals meet the criteria and provides a same-day coupon to entice consumers to make a purchase.

"In the age of social media, consumer expectations are soaring and people want information and advice about the products they're going to buy," said Sima Nadler, Retail Lead, IBM Research. "By closing the gap between the online and in-store shopping experience, marketers can appeal to the individual needs of consumers and keep them coming back."

The app, being developed by IBM's Research lab in Haifa, Israel, 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% of the retail volume, according to Forrester Research(1).

Retailers will be able to use the app to build in-store traffic by connecting with individual consumers, turning marketing into a welcomed service that is not intrusive. The app can make it easier for retailers to understand consumer likes and dislikes and offer related products in other aisles, such as bananas or milk, to accompany a cereal purchase. It could also make loyalty points and digital coupons become more convenient for shoppers, freeing them from the hassle of searching for discounts.

How it Works

Upon entering a participating store, consumers opt-in to the service by downloading the augmented reality mobile app to their smart phone or tablet. Once they register, identified by either their telephone number or their loyalty cards, they create or update a profile of preferences. This simple, one-time setting will allow shoppers to receive personalized service to address dietary needs, pricing, environmental or religious preferences that is instant generated – like low-salt, sugar-free, local grown, kosher food, etc. The video camera on the mobile device will be able to recognize products according to shapes, colors and other features using advanced image processing technologies. The retailer's back-end computer system, powered by IBM Smarter Commerce software, will deliver information to the mobile device, where advanced augmented reality technologies overlay the information on the product images.

Beyond helping consumers, this new app is expected to bring great value to retailers, serving as a natural platform for them to interact with their customers at the point when purchasing decisions are made. Aside from the ability to suggest up-sell and cross-sell offers in the store itself, retailers will have the opportunity to gain invaluable insights that can help optimize floor plans and product arrangements in their stores.

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