The Metaverse Meets Your Local Grocer

When Apple first launched its ARkit SDK for mobile AR development in 2007, it kicked off the current wave of excitement around AR and camera marketing. At the time, several concept videos emerged on YouTube showing AR’s potential. But unfortunately, they were just that… concepts.

One of those videos showed a first-person perspective of a grocery store experience. After typing in a product name, shoppers were guided visually to where the item sat on the shelf. This included the familiar 3D navigation interface of tools like Google maps, but through a store’s interior.

The reason this was a concept rather than a working product was that it’s very hard to build. The front-end UX is one thing, but reliably navigating to a given item in a store requires lots of data. We’re talking product catalogs, inventory and store layouts for large chains and individual grocers alike.

Now, London-based Dent Reality wants to bring this vision from concept to reality. The company last week raised $3.4 million to power in-store AR navigation. If it can pull this off, it could represent a true utility for shoppers to streamline their store visits through an intuitive visual interface.

Video Vault: The Metaverse Meets Main Street

Camera-Native

Going one level deeper on Dent Reality, the idea is to bring many of the benefits of eCommerce to physical-world retail – starting in the grocery vertical. There are several ways that retail shopping can be digitized in this way, including informational overlays on products, and in-store navigation.

Starting with the latter, Dent will tackle the above data challenges by integrating pertinent data sets from retail partners. This requires working with stores to gain their shelf-specific data on item location – likely easier with national chains than the fragmented world of individual grocers.

The hook for retailers is to improve their in-store shopping, thus gaining a competitive advantage. If a given store can advertise in-aisle AR navigation to save time for busy shoppers, it could be a meaningful enticement. That in turn provides incentive to work with Dent and hand over the necessary data.

The appeal of AR-guided shopping could also resonate among “camera-native” Gen Z, who continue to grow in purchasing power. Snap’s Alex Dao tells us that the generation currently drives $1.5 trillion in annual spending. Put another way, Dent is offering grocers a way to future-proof themselves.

Notably, Dent has aspirations for its platform that extend beyond grocery to other retail verticals. It’s starting with grocery because that’s the best way to stress test itself. Indeed, the volume and variance in individual items are much greater in grocery than other verticals, creating lots of complexity.

Real-world Metaverse

All of the above feeds into 2021’s biggest buzzword: the metaverse. Though it’s shrouded in ambiguity and overuse, there are legitimate principles behind the m-word. It’s about unlocking digital content and experiences beyond the surface level. The greek root meta literally means “beyond.”

The metaverse is mostly discussed in immersive and multiplayer contexts, often in VR. But the larger and less-discussed metaverse could be that which brings the physical world to life through digital content. This “metavearth” is AR’s inherent promise, as the technology blends the physical and digital.

And that brings the metaverse closer to local media & commerce, as we discussed during a panel at Localogy 2020, featuring Epic Games and Foursquare. The idea is to annotate the world with useful data that’s activated “in situ,” or on the spot, to aid commerce or other consumer activities.

If you think about it, this is analogous to what Google started doing 20 years ago by indexing the web. The metavearth could bring that principle to the physical world to create a sort of “internet of places.” And Google naturally is keen on owning a piece of this, given tools like Google Lens.

It will take a while for all of these pieces to materialize but use cases could include everything from gaming (a la Pokémon Go) to utilities (a la Google Lens) to shopping and commerce (a la grocery-store AR). We’ll keep tracking all of the above as the pieces start to materialize over the coming decade.

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