Augmented Reality App Creates Personalized Shopping Experience

Augemented reality is starting to make its way onto consumers' mobile devices and into the shopping aisles of forward-thinking retailers. IBM Research scientists have created a first-of-a-kind augmented reality mobile shopping app that makes it possible for consumers to pan store shelves and receive personalized product information, recommendations and coupons while they browse the aisles.

Upon entering a store, consumers download the app onto their smartphone or tablet, register, and create a profile of features that matter to them — from product ingredients that will inflame an allergy, to whether packaging is biodegradable. When they point the device's video camera at merchandise, the app instantly recognizes products and, via augmented reality technology, overlays digital details on the images — 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, a shopper looking for breakfast cereal could specify they want a brand low in sugar, highly rated by consumers — and on sale. As the shopper pans the mobile device's camera across a shelf of cereal boxes, the augmented shopping app reveals which cereals meet the criteria and also provides a same-day coupon to entice consumers to make a purchase.

The app, 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 percent of the retail volume, according to Forrester Research.

Retailers can 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 makes it easier for retailers to understand consumers' likes and dislikes and offer related products in other aisles, such as bananas or milk to accompany a cereal purchase, or shoes or a necklace to accompany a new dress. Loyalty points and digital coupons become more convenient for shoppers, freeing them from the hassle of searching for discounts.

"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."

How it works
Upon entering a participating store, consumers download 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 allows 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 can recognize products according to shapes, colors and other features using advanced image processing technologies. The retailer's back-end system comprised of IBM Smarter Commerce software delivers 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 insight that can help optimize floor plans and product arrangements in their stores.

For more information about IBM Smarter Commerce, visit