Can augmented reality turn sites into stores?

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Online shoppers often lament the inability to see and touch merchandise, and Mastercard is trying to address the problem by borrowing from augmented and virtual reality that’s accessible through any browser.

Working with technology developer Next Retail Concepts, Mastercard has connected to a virtual version of Los Angeles boutique retailer Fred Segal, where users may virtually pick merchandise on the shelves of the iconic store in West Hollywood, explore it from various angles, and make purchases with a discount for using Mastercard.

For Mastercard, it’s the latest in series of immersive shopping experiences the card network has experimented with over the last couple of years including interactive mirrors from Oak Labs, pop-up dressing rooms at New York’s Fashion Week and interactive shopping tools with Swarovski.

“The technology we’ve developed with Fred Segal takes this further so shoppers using just a browser on a computer screen, phone or tablet can get a virtual experience without the need for a separate app or a headset,” said Stephane Wyper, senior vice president of new commerce partnerships and commercialization at Mastercard.

Similar to navigating a street using Google Maps, visitors to the Fred Segal store site can use their cursor or finger on a computer, tablet or mobile phone screen to move around the store, with the ability to look in all directions and zoom in on shelves to explore highlighted products, using Next Retail Concepts’ technology.

Clicking on an arrow overlaid on a specific product image opens a window enabling computer or mobile phone users to flip products around and explore them from every angle.

The broad goal is to replicate the in-store shopping experience for customers located elsewhere, incorporating security, loyalty, analytics and the ability to gather data insights from users during the process, according to Wyper.

Transactions conducted through the Fred Segal integration are tokenized, and the checkout process is typical of any e-commerce site, but Mastercard is exploring ways to use biometrics for authentication to make the experience even more fluid, Wyper said.

“We think we can use immersive technology to extend a richer retail experience anywhere, and we see the IoT and vehicles as another area with huge potential for improving the way people shop and pay for food and other things on the move,” Wyper said.

The flagship Fred Segal store in West Hollywood, which has been featured in several movies, was a good fit for the experiment because the in-store experience is known for its unique vibe, according to Wyper.

Not all merchandise in the Fred Segal store is available for exploration and purchase through the virtual pop-up shop, but among the dozens of featured items are high-end T-shirts, leather jackets, jeans and accessories including a Fred Segal-logo shopping bag for $188.

The Fred Segal immersive shopping experience is being promoted by 29Rooms, a hands-on demonstration of immersive experiences operated by New York-based technology company Refinery 29. Launched in 2015, 29Rooms has set up its demos in separate tours in San Francisco, Chicago, New York and currently in Los Angeles (though Dec. 17). Shoppers currently can get $30 off any $200 purchase at the Fred Segal immersive experience shop by paying with Mastercard.

High-end apparel and gifts are the first retail category Mastercard is exploring with the technology, but Wyper sees opportunities to expand the immersive shopping experience to other sectors including travel.

A veteran of Mastercard’s Europe-based Mastercard Labs, Wyper has an engineering background but blends that with enthusiasm for the shopping experience.

“I’m a big believer in how brick-and-mortar retail may be reinvented, and as retail evolves it’s very exciting to see where it will go,” Wyper said.


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