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Location-based Augmented Reality

For some critics, virtual reality is still a pipe dream firmly rooted in sci-fi and the 1990s.

However, a new concept of ‘augmented reality’ is beginning to bring virtual into the real world and capitalise on it in the retail marketplace.

The ‘virtual tailor’ will take a customer’s measurements in seconds from a webcam at home. The would-be purchaser holds a CD or DVD in front of him/herself, and the system judges the shape and size of the person from that comparator.

That data is then matched with a database of thousands of people in near identical sizes to make clothes recommendations to the potential customer at home. It can take account of hair and skin colour, different body shapes and thickness of limbs to suggest new ideas rather than repeat previous buying patterns.

Shopping With a Friend

It’s marketed as equivalent ‘to going shopping with a friend’ and being able to prevent ‘fashion disasters’. At present almost a third of clothes bought online are sent back as they don’t fit properly. That is a hefty cost for retailers which is passed to customers in higher prices.

The other bonus for online retailing is that customers looking for clothes in the high street are ten times more likely to purchase than home clothing browsers will. However, not to be outdone, the real retailers in streets are utilising the same technologies.

Selfridges in London has already had an augmented reality window display which allowed passers-by to ‘try on’ virtual watches in the street. Anyone interested was given a wristband which was ‘shown’ to a camera, allowing an image of a watch to appear on their wrists on the screen.

Tissot watches reckoned the two week trial increased sales at that outlet by 85%. That is an incredible result and it would be easy to think the revolution is well advanced. It has but begun. Gradually, it will be possible to ‘try’ the entire catalogue of a retailer, either at home or instore.

Jonathan Chippindale is chief executive of Holition, a London new-tech development company, leading the field in augmented reality retailing. He said: ‘the technology is fairly ubiquitous – our ingenuity is in applying it’. Technology was of secondary importance to creativity, he argued. ‘A top of the range TV is no good if you’re watching rubbish’.

Bare Shelves and Images

Well that will strike a chord with millions. As will anything that improves the shopping experience. Meanwhile Tesco, never to be outdone, are piloting an augmented reality scheme at eight stores and online, which allows shoppers standing in front of a screen to pass a bar code over the webcam and see themselves holding the selected item.

It may be toys, like fully-built Lego sets and games or even a television set. They’re doing it to free up space on their shelves as they currently stock ever more items. However, with this scheme, they need stock very little – it’s all virtual stock, ordered and delivered within hours.

So, maybe the future of shopping is virtual, after all. And not just for Christmas.


Daily Telegraph, James Hurley. 15 November 2011.

Picture: Pucky2012