October 24, 2013

‘Augmented Retail’

I attended a talk by Jonathan Chippindale, CEO of Holition yesterday. He spoke about how disruptive technology can be used in a retail context for marketing purposes and about what is most important in developing ‘augmented retail’. Here’s a summary!

I wrote about disruptive technologies and how they might streamline our shopping experiences in one of my earlier posts, but Jonathan Chippindale spoke about this in a different context. He emphasised that technology is not just great for enhancing a retail experience but that technology also enables consumers to shape part of the brand image. And he emphasised how, even though technology can create great consumer experiences, creativity is still centre-stage.

Jonathan Chippindale Apologies for my bad photo-taking skills!

Jonathan Chippindale
Apologies for my bad photo-taking skills!

First off: Holition is a company that creates ‘augmented reality solutions’ for retailers. In other words, they help brands create totally awesome ways of using technology to showcase their products in new, enticing ways. Examples of this kind of augmented reality:

  • The Uniqlo ‘magic mirror’ –> try on a piece of clothing and see yourself wearing it in the mirror, but in a different colour!

  • Dunhill holographic fashion show

Jonathan explained how technology today acts as an enabler. Not only does it allow people to share information and opinions about products and brands via social media, but it also enables them to shape part of the brand identities through the ways in which they interact with the brands and what they share in relation to them. Using augmented reality in a retail context, for instance, creates loads of customer engagement – people take photos of it, tell their friends about it, share it on their social media channels. The people who do this then become associated with the brands and consequently promote (or discredit!) them.

We are all retailers

Through endorsing certain products or complaining about others, we project an image of ourselves out into the world whilst simultaneously (and probably unknowingly) also helping companies sell their products. Jonathan used the example of Pinterest to highlight this – supposedly 93% of people who purchased products through Pinterest got to the purchasing page through clicking on links on other users’ Pinterest boards – not through the links on the actual brands’ boards! That highlights just how good we have become at being brand endorsers, without even knowing it! We are better at selling products than the brands themselves!

The Uniqlo magic mirror

The Uniqlo magic mirror

A platform that is apparently growing with tremendous speed has used exactly this principle – Nuji has over half a million products from 30’000 brands (and growing) and offers its users discounts if they share the items with their friends. If you share the item that you like with your friend, you receive points. If that friend shares the item with others as well, both you and your friend receive points – etc etc. The more points you get, the larger the discount. Great idea!

Retailers are going to have to give up some of the control.

Whilst disruptive technologies and social networks continue growing, brands will have decreasing power over how their brand image is communicated between members of society. And a good way of relinquishing this control and providing a platform for customers to generate positive PR is ‘augmented retail.’ It provides fun experiences for consumers and encourages them to become creative in their interactions with the brand.

In terms of different fashion sectors, Jonathan said that the luxury sector is using augmented retail to create conversations (i.e. generate PR), whilst the high street are attempting to use it to generate sales. However, since augmented retail has not been around that long or been used that extensively, a lack of market research and data cannot answer the question regarding whether augmented retail actually acts as an incentive to make product purchases. According to him, this is why it would make more sense to be using it as a ‘PR’ tool rather than a sales tool (it is all too obvious that it is definitely an effective PR tool). But who knows what the future may hold, once we collect enough data to be able to determine the impacts of augmented retail?

At its heart, the retail model is probably broken right now. […] But omnichannel is a good starting point

Retail is becoming stale, and ecommerce and brick-and-mortar are not seamlessly integrated at this point. Technology developments will enable continuous improvements to supply chains and better distribution systems will help streamline the online/offline integration, but what is very important here is coming up with ever-new ways of doing things differently from the competition in a fun way – this can only be done by thinking outside of the box. By being creative. Jonathan highlighted this using this example: asking a software developer to create software for showing how clothing may look on someone could lead to the creation of a software that does that, but he may not understand that the software also has to make the clothes look good on the person (not just ‘smack on a coat’) – the artistic side of it –> this is what will ultimately create purchases!

Technology should never be driven by the technologists

Jonathan highlighted that this is what is incremental today – and will increase in importance in the future. In a world where technology is constantly improving and where a team of mathematician graduates can probably be replaced by a software program in the future, it is creativity and our ability to forge relationships that will enable us to create ideas for ever-more enticing marketing and PR strategies – and for new ways in which to use technology in retail.

The power of making competitive marketing is in everyone’s back pocket today

… just not everyone is creative enough to come up with mind-blowing ideas!

Also cool: Ikea augmented reality!


All quotes taken from Jonathan Chippindale’s talk at the London College of Fashion yesterday.

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About Anna Abrell

Postgraduate at the London College of Fashion, studying MA Strategic Fashion Marketing.


E-Commerce, Industry Professionals, Retail, Tech


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