AR’s Next Conquest: Your Neighborhood Shopping Center

One of augmented reality’s core properties is to fuse the physical and digital — inspiring the admittedly awkward mashup, phygital. Part of this involves physical places: AR devices have to understand a space before they augment it. This breathes new opportunity and applicability into the location intelligence sector.

For example, Foursquare — the king of location intelligence in depth and scale — has an experimental project in its Labs division to power audio AR experiences. Known as Marsbot for AirPods, it utilizes Foursquare’s signature location data to inform you audibly about local points of interest as you walk by them.

With AR’s more common visual connotations, we likewise see activity such as Google Lens and Live View, which place GMB-powered informational overlays over local storefronts. Niantic is meanwhile driving SMB marketing through Pokémon Go, and Snap’s Local Lenses bring Snapchat’s signature lenses to local streets.

Pokémon Go, Now with More SMB Marketing

Geo-Anchored Advertising

The latest move in this fledgling subsector of geo-located AR crossed our desks recently. Brookfield Properties is beginning to offer AR ad inventory throughout its shopping centers. This involves making 150 million square feet of “airspace” available for virtual ad placement across 100 locations in 42 states.

In other words, it will offer the physical space throughout its shopping centers as ad inventory for brands to geo-anchor AR ads. The most obvious example is in-mall brands and retailers that can influence foot traffic through interactive promotions that are seen through shoppers’ upheld smartphones.

That last part is the key qualifier. AR ads are as benign as a tree falling in the woods, unless they’re seen through a specific combination of device, app, and trained user behavior. In Brookfield’s case, this will happen through its partner Aria Networks — an ad network that specializes in physical-space AR activations.

As for software and device compatibility, it’s unclear how Aria’s network reach translates to on-device requirements. It could have luck with QR-code-activated web AR (versus apps). Either way, onboarding will have to be prompted, as AR is too early and unproven for consumers to actively seek it out or work for it.

Once those onboarding kinks are ironed out, there could be ample opportunity to make shopping-center airspace more interactive. Beyond ads, Aria claims it can provide utilities like in-mall wayfinding. Replacing the traditional 2D mall directory could be a welcome change for shoppers, not to mention “touchless.”

What Technologies Will Power Retail’s Touchless Era?

Future Gazing

Back to the point about making the onboarding process easy and clear, this could be the make-or-break factor for Brookfield or any other entities that attempt to infuse AR into physical spaces. Because AR is so new, it has to “piggyback” on other established behavior as Snap has learned with social AR lenses.

Brookfield could also take a page from Google’s book in offering AR with a clear value exchange. Specifically, it provides a utility for navigating city streets. AR overlays for storefronts are then provided as part of that experience. This navigation use case could be equally valuable in shopping centers, as noted.

Another way to get users to go through the trouble of opening a given app and holding up their phones — a new behavior for most consumers — is through financial incentive. If there are discounts unlocked through AR ads that are floating in virtual space in a given shopping center, that could accelerate adoption.

In any case, AR use cases like the above always seem like a no-brainer when “future-gazing.” But when it comes down to the actual user experience on the spot — including activation energy and education — traction can fall flat. Geolocated AR will be opportune, but cultural acclimation and education have to align.

We’ll be diving further into this topic of geo-located AR at Localogy 2021 during a panel with Foursquare, Epic Games, and others TBD. We hope to see you there… 

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