Retail gimmicks or the future of shopping?

 
Bus stop with HMV QR codes HMV has brought QR codes to the bus stop

Retailers are struggling to get shoppers to spend right now - and they are hoping that new technology might be the answer.

News of two hi-tech initiatives that try to marry the real and virtual worlds has arrived in my inbox this week.

But both technologies - augmented reality and QR codes - still have to convince consumers they are more than just gimmicks.

Tesco is hoping that augmented reality will give shoppers a better feel for products, either in store or online. The technology may be familiar to mobile phone users through various apps that use the phone's camera to overlay information or images on the real world.

Tesco has installed AR screens - in effect giant webcams - in four stores as it pilots the technology. Shoppers can then pick up various entertainment products - DVDs, books - show the pack to the screen and see a trailer or get more information.

Rob Salter, head of entertainment products at Tesco, says the idea is to bring the products to life: "Some of these products - like a movie - don't mean much until you actually use them. If you haven't actually seen them, you are less likely to buy, so I'm keen on anything that brings them to life."

Tesco DVD stand Augmented reality is being used at Tesco stores

The other aspect of the trial is allowing tesco.com customers to use augmented reality at home via this site. The idea here is that you hold products or your clubcard or a catalogue up to the webcam and you then get an "augmented experience".

If for instance you would like to see how a new television would look in your living-room you can project it into position using your webcam and a product code.

I've not really explained that very well - and I think that's the problem. When you see it in action, augmented reality is great fun. But the concept is difficult to get across to new users. And at home, you need to download new software and jump through a series of hoops to get started.

Many may decide they would rather just get on with their shopping, though Rob Salter says that he has watched customers confronted with the AR project in stores and they seem to find it pretty intuitive.

If AR is in its infancy, QR codes have been around for a while and the square barcode symbols that take you online when you point your phone at them are popping up everywhere.

The most startling example I've seen was in adverts placed above each urinal in the toilets at a motorway service station.

And this week 20th Century Fox and HMV teamed up to launch what they describe as the UK's first virtual store to sell BluRay and DVD movies.

The stores are actually posters on bus-stops with QR codes on each image of a DVD or Blu-Ray. Point your phone at them and they take you to the HMV online store where you can buy them.

Both firms believe that busy shoppers will welcome the opportunity to do a bit of Christmas shopping while they hang around for a bus. Maybe... though I've yet to see much evidence of QR codes catching the public imagination here in the UK as they appear to have done in Asia.

Korean grocery store QR is used in Tesco's Korean grocery stores

HMV and Fox admit their QR venture was in part inspired by this rather more impressive virtual grocery store (right).

It is at a South Korean subway station and allows passers-by to scan items using QR codes and then have them delivered to their homes.

And, believe it or not, this is a Tesco store. The firm's Korean HomePlus chain is testing the theory that commuters would rather do some virtual shopping on the way home than lug heavy bags from a real store.

So British retailers have been pioneers in using the latest technology. The trouble is that consumers here have been far slower to embrace new gizmos than their counterparts in South Korea or Japan.

And by the time Tesco and Fox have got shoppers to understand AR and QR, they may be out of fashion.

After all, in Asia, NFC - Near Field Communication - is now built into many phones, with millions swiping their mobiles to get on the train or to buy a coffee. Another new acronym that British retailers will have to decode for shoppers.

 
Rory Cellan-Jones Article written by Rory Cellan-Jones Rory Cellan-Jones Technology correspondent

Tax and tech

Like politicians everywhere, the UK government is torn between enthusing over new technology - and demanding a fair share of its profits.

Read full article

More on This Story

More from Rory

Comments

This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
 
  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 8.

    @brightengineer #7

    "As i was reading the story i warmed to scanning something at a bus stop, pressing buy, and then the next day or so it landing on the doorstep."

    It's more likely that as you're scanning something, someone will steal your phone and the next day the police are shrugging their shoulders and telling you to claim on your insurance.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 2.

    Why go to a shop? The last time I bought any gift or electical device from a shop was 2 years ago. I do everything online or John Lewis as in almost every other store the assistants are clueless the prices high and overall service dreadful. Online is the future of retail!!

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 14.

    @6.Miss Ingoff - OK if that is the case why is it that the smartphone market, which apps are coded for, is actually in the minority when you look at the overall picture of mobile phone sales?

    The majority of people don't own a phone capable of using such technology.

    So remind me again who will use such tech?

    Yeah. The minority with their smartphones, unless the price of such phones crashes.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 17.

    @Graphis #15

    You would be happy to go to a supermarket with no shelves, just a counter where you tell someone everything you want? Anyone who predicts the end of shops/books etc simply lack understanding about human nature. We are tactile animals...we will always want to browse, to touch. Shops are not going anywhere.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 23.

    Oh hell, another chain of shops it will be impossibly uncomfortable to go in to ... at this rate I'll be doing all my shopping online within a couple of years.

    Hey, stores, we want decently manufactured products at a reasonable price, not expensive junk that lasts five minutes. And we don't want adverts with everything.

 

Comments 5 of 43

 

Features

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.