Bridging the Physical and Digital Worlds
By David Dorf on Aug 09, 2010
One of the most fascinating emerging technologies has been augmented reality because it combines the physical and digital worlds in a useful way. I can easily see AR being the future for digital signage in stores, and it could replace electronic shelf labels before they get a chance to go mainstream. Why invest in new hardware for the store when your customers are walking around with a capable computer in their pockets?
There are other good examples of the physical and online worlds crossing paths. Earlier this summer 7-Eleven and Zynga teamed to provide redeemable game content on the convenience store's products. Players of Farmville, Mafia Wars, and Yoville bought products from 7-Eleven such as Slurpees and then redeemed the codes on the product for virtual stuff in the game. I'm not a player, but I see lots of evidence of the popularity of the games with my friends on Facebook. While I don't know if 7-Eleven increased their traffic, I would be very surprised if they didn't.Another example is the notion of check-ins. Check-ins are very similar to click-throughs in the online world. Retailers provide rewards for customers setting foot in their stores, knowing that the more often a customer visits, the more likely they are to buy things. The traditional check-in apps, like Foursquare, either allow check-ins to occur without actually visiting the store, or use GPS, which isn't accurate enough to know whether a customer really entered the store. Startup Shopkick is outfitting Best Buys with devices that emit audio signals the iPhone can "hear" to determine that a person has really entered the store, or even specific department within the store. Their application rewards shoppers with loyalty points as well as in-store offers.
As mobile phones continue to get more powerful, things we thought could only be accomplished online will bleed into stores. Mobile is a unifying force that brings the online and physical worlds together, further enabling consumers to shop in different ways.