Apps & Marketing

Google I/O: Project Tango And Aisle411 Power Amazing Augmented Shopping

14 min read

aisle411At first glance, last week’s Google I/O Developer Conference was all about Google showing off a new version of Android and revealing plans to bring its mobile software to cars, TVs and wearables. But it’s the news around Google’s Project Tango and the little-reported partnership with aisle411, a company specializing in indoor mapping, that is the real game-changer.

The tie-up aims to transform the retail experience by making in-store shopping with mobile devices much more immersive and rewarding for consumers.

At one level, Google’s Project Tango provides a disruptive new technology used for creating 3D maps of indoor spaces with the ability to show a user’s precise location and orientation within centimeters of accuracy.

At the other end of the spectrum, aisle411 has a vast database of searchable indoor maps (optimized for mobile) and the technology to collect, organize, and monetize retailers’ product inventory location data. The company also counts more than 12,500 retailers across the U.S. that have already implemented its in-store mobile marketing platform technology.

Combine the strengths of these two companies — as this partnership clearly does — and the building blocks are firmly in place to power an amazing 3D augmented reality experience inside the store.

(By way of background, Google’s Project Tango is a multi-partner effort with universities, research institutions and over 40 industry partners that brings together research in robotics and related disciplines, and concentrates that into a mobile platform. This video [2:57] explains the vision driving the amazing progress to date.)

Augmented shopping

The next months will see new Project Tango technology piloted in multiple locations with major retailers, including several Walgreens stores in the U.S. in the coming months. [Press release]

For the consumer, the advantages are all around convenience. As the video below shows, shoppers are exposed to personal and relevant offers, as well as offers and rewards that literally ‘pop out’ of the shelf along their in-store route, allowing them to collect loyalty rewards just for walking down aisles.

For retailers, it’s all about the business benefits (sales, retention, monetization) that can be gained when the combined solutions from Project Tango and aisle411 make it possible for people to search and navigate to specific products in a 3D augmented reality experience inside the store.

Clearly, augmented shopping isn’t here — yet. But the tools and technologies that retailers can harness to both satisfy shoppers’ demands for convenience and personal mobility and fight showrooming are coming online fast.

The ‘buzz word’ here is indoor navigation and the answer lies in solutions that navigate a customer from researching or viewing a product on their mobile device directly to the shelf in store where shoppers can find — hence buy — the product they want in the first place.


Rafts of research show in-store purchases begin on mobile devices. (In fact, recent consumer surveys estimate between 60% and 80% of U.S. smartphone shoppers use their devices for pre-shopping activities.)

But the numbers that should excite and ignite interest among retailers revolve around the vast opportunities to incentivize and monetize what Opus Research calls online-to-offline commerce.  This is Internet-influenced commerce that starts online — and increasingly on the consumer’s mobile device — and is then concluded in-store at the physical checkout.

Opus Research pegs the value of e-commerce (commerce conducted by all digital channels, including mobile) at $186 billion. In contrast, it estimates spending on online-to-offline commerce is roughly 10x that amount, or a whopping $1.83 trillion (!).

So why have most digital marketers quite literally left this out of the retail equation? In a word, technology — or rather the lack of it.

As Opus Research puts it: “Tracking the Internet’s influence offline has been nearly impossible on a per-campaign basis — until smartphones.”

Smartphones have opened the door, bringing digital/mobile analytics and measurement to real-world actions and transactions.

Now indoor and in-store solutions can take all that a massive step further, bridging the gap between the digital and physical worlds to effectively map in-store sales back to the exposure (mobile app, mobile website, mobile coupon, mobile loyalty program, mobile advertising) that triggered the purchase in the first place.

Mobilize, optimize and personalize

But it’s not just about conversions and closing the loop.

In my view, the tie-up between Google and aisle411 is really about enabling a new level of customer engagement and an entirely new retail ecosystem where bricks-and-mortar stores can play a central role.

Simply put, this next-generation shopping experience brings together all the key stakeholders necessary to transform retail.

  • The Google Tango device, by determining a device’s orientation and position within a store within centimeters, can augment shopping, enabling new and immersive experiences consumers will appreciate. (Of course, people must consent to be exposed to these experiences, but this won’t be a battle if the value proposition is convincing and built on convenience.)
  • The role of the Retailer is reinforced. The in-store shopping experience, which comes alive on the screen, is engaging, personal, relevant and —potentially — more profitable. Smart retailers will not only seek to (re)gain control of the in-store environment; they will embrace the opportunity to monetize the in-store experience, running campaigns with brands and marketers to deliver personalized offers, recommendations, coupons, points etc to shoppers when they are in the right need state and — more importantly — in the right aisle.
  • Aisle411 merges digital data (about products and their exact location in the store provided and updated by the Retailer) with the real-world shopping journey.

Connect the dots, and precise positioning enables precise targeting. What’s more, layering in 3D augmentation at the aisle level can aid in discoverability and deliverability — exposing shoppers to items as they walk down the aisles that they might not have considered or even known about.

The ability to deliver shoppers loyalty points as they walk through the aisle will no doubt prove to be a big plus — and the gamification of shopping will surely appeal to Millennial consumers.

Scenarios and strategies

This is all about reshaping the future of shopping and the Google-aisle411 announcement gives us good idea of the experiences we can expect.

Nathan Pettyjohn, aisle411 CEO, tells me some retailers (among them his clients) see the opportunity to take personalization to an amazing and exciting new level.

Some retailers pursue a strategy to present shoppers with a completely personalized store where they only ‘see’ what they need, want or would appreciate. On a low-sodium diet and only want to see products your doctor recommends? This level of personalization makes it possible.

Others are working on ways to make shopping entertaining, thus adding value to the experience that brands could sponsor.  Want to be guided through a store by a celebrity or shown the newest, coolest toys by a super hero? Retail is being reinvented to sell experiences, not just ‘stuff’.

As Nathan puts it: “Our vision is to digitize and mobilize the physical store so it can be interacted with.” This interactivity enables the retailer (and the brands, if it chooses to monetize through mobile marketing and advertising) to “create and deliver contextually-aware recommendations in the form of offers, or just great experiences that keep the customer coming back for more.”

There is also benefit for the retailer when every single section of every single shelf becomes a place to engage shoppers and learn from the experience to deliver discounts that treat shoppers as individuals. Forget the wastage that comes when retailers offer money-off coupons on products to people that would have bought them anyway. The way is clear to ‘know’ the bargain-hunters from the high-rollers and deliver offers and rewards that suit each segment.

My take:

Mobile brings shoppers into the stores and now it’s up to the retailer to use mobile to keep them there. Leaving aside the ‘filter bubble’ dilemma for a moment, the ability to deliver people a personal and valuable shopping ‘experience’ is core to what will distinguish the retail leaders from  the also-rans (especially in the race against Amazon). And let’s not forget the value of location here. If a shopper can get an offer or loyalty points when they are standing in front of the shelf, perhaps triggered by the fact that the item was on the shopping list stored in their mobile device to begin with, it’s convenient, not creepy.

But, to be ‘buyable’ products need to be ‘discoverable’ and ‘findable’ — which is why retailers should look at solutions that allow them to turn their product data into easy-to-understand information real people can interact with on their mobile devices. The benefits when brands get in on the action (attracted by the ability to combine precision positioning with precision targeting) are also not to be overlooked.

All this is possible right now, which is why innovative retailers like Walgreens are laying the groundwork to deliver a shopping ‘experience’ (currently with aisle411 and in the next months as a partner piloting Project Tango devices powered by Aisle411). Moving forward, I have to join with Tomi Ahonen (and this recent must-read interview with him about the future of mobile) and agree that augmented shopping (well, augmented everything) is a logical step in the mobile continuum. It’s all about delivering people what they want at the touchpoints that correspond to where they are in their experience — and mobile devices are certainly a big part of the journey.