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There are many retailers that have trialled image recognition technology in their catalogues.

The tech allows the retailer's app users to scan and shop or access additional content. So far, it seems to have been a test-and-learn activity from brands such as Net-A-Porter (as part of their magazine, Porter) and IKEA (which has focused on additional content rather than commerce).

Target is new to shoppable catalogues this month and Argos has further enhanced its now Aurasma-powered offering. Both of these huge retailers I think have found good use cases.

Let's take a look.

Target - In a Snap

Target's new app is called 'In a Snap'. Currently it works with a Target 'Back to College' catalogue.

There are a few drawbacks with the app. Mainly, the fact that the functionality isn't part of Target's main app adds an extra barrier to adoption.

Doubtless there are reasons for this, not least because this is a trial, but updating an app is certainly easier to do (and is often done out of course when prompted) than making the cognitive effort of downloading a new one.

It's clear that smartphone users don't make regular use of many apps (usually far fewer than 20) and so making the most of existing loyal app users makes sense for retailers.

Audience and campaign

In a Snap is certainly being trialled in the right part of the market. Its back-to-college customers are likely to be tech-savvy and perhaps not under time pressure.

With so many of Target's products as potential for back-to-college campaigns, from stationery to clothing to furniture, there's plenty of content to use, creating scannable tableaux.

The catalogue and app come on the back of a content and social campaign by Target titled 'Best Year Ever'. There's some YouTube content, created with YouTubers and designer Veronica Valencia, focused on college students who want to perk up their dorm rooms.

This content is being used across social media with the hashtag #bestyearever.

The ability to scan an idealised room and pick and choose from the contents is one that other retailers have looked at.

Target seems to have found a great use case by incoprorating the shoppable catalogue as part of a multichannel campaign. It will be fascinating to see how many scans and check-outs are made.

Argos and Aurasma

Argos has recently switched from using Blippar to Aurasma for the augmentation of its catalogues.

Aurasma allows the technology to be brought into the existing Argos app (effectively white labelled), which is obviously advantageous. 

Content and persuasion

The scan feature within the Argos app will allow users to reveal extended ranges, product video, promotions and some content aimed at children.

The Argos catalogue has always been a kids' favourite, especially during the holiday season. Adding content for children, who again are time-rich and receptive to new technology, is a smart move.

Promotions and bonus products are also a great example of the persuasive tactics needed to get a catalogue reader to jump onto their app and potentially make a purchase. One can imagine making these offers time sensitive to really try to get people to buy and then collect in store or receive delivery.

Simply using this scan technology as a way of getting from catalogue to website product listing isn't going to be compelling enough and Argos has realised this and added bonus content.

This technology is also great for space saving and relevant for certain products that are hard to merchandise on paper. Jewellery, for example, can be enhanced greatly with additonal photography and product video.

The explainer video sums it up nicely.


Augmented reality has been met with scepticism in some quarters, including by me.

However, when it's used at scale by retailers such as these, unlocking diverse content as part of the app experience, and with the back drop of an increasingly tech-savvy public, the technology seems to be compelling.

Time will tell if Argos and Target succeed but the outlook is optimistic.

Bertrand Bodson, chief digital officer at Home Retail Group, said:

We were really encouraged by the high levels of engagement from customers in our initial augmented reality trials. By launching Argos Scan, we can bring the catalogue to life for millions more who are already using our smartphone and tablet apps. Because it’s built-in to the app already, it’s really accessible and easy to use.

Ben Davis

Published 4 August, 2014 by Ben Davis @ Econsultancy

Ben Davis is a senior writer at Econsultancy. He lives in Manchester, England. You can contact him at ben.davis@econsultancy.com, follow at @herrhuld or connect via LinkedIn.

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Comments (1)

Andrew Wise

Andrew Wise, Strategic Director at Engine CreativeSmall Business

Tesco are also using Augmented Reality (AR) as a way of bridging the gap between the physical and digital worlds through their 'Tesco Discover' app. This was initially developed using Aurasma although is now built on the Metaio AR platform.

This approach gives Tesco complete control over the technical development of their AR platform enabling them to embed and test new technology such as proximity communications quickly and efficiently.

By taking ownership over their own AR platform, Tesco has managed to achieve massively increased dwell times compared to other media types and has also trumped stand alone AR platforms such as Blippar with average results for AR campaigns using the Tesco Discover app more than 2.5x longer than its rivals.

You can find out more and view videos of how AR is used across publishing, products and in-store in the following link:


about 2 years ago

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