The high street store is well and truly back on the map – new figures by Colliers International indicate that the amount of empty shops on UK high streets is declining at its fastest rate in eight years, and now sits at 13%.

Max Dawes, Partnerships Director, Zappar

The high street store is well and truly back on the map – new figures by Colliers International indicate that the amount of empty shops on UK high streets is declining at its fastest rate in eight years, and now sits at 13%.

For some this figure may be surprising at a time when online shopping is experiencing unprecedented popularity, but for me it is testament to the fact that the traditional bricks and mortar store remains firmly at the heart of the shopping experience.

For retailers, this means that creating the best possible in-store experience is more important than ever, and what strikes me is the way that pioneering retailers are turning to technology to do this.

In-store iPads, customer apps, beacon technology and browse-and-order hubs have all emerged as ways for retailers to bring the best of digital onto the shop floor to enhance the in-store experience. Where many retailers are missing a trick, however, is with augmented reality – with shoppers increasingly likely to be using their smartphones while browsing in a store, augmented reality optimises this growing channel by giving retailers new ways to interact with customers and strengthen customer relationships whilst increasing propensity to purchase.

What’s unique about augmented reality in the retail space is the entertainment edge it brings – Zappar’s focus on ‘infotainment’ brings shoppers something that makes their retail experience more enjoyable, encouraging them to spend longer in store, visit more often and ultimately feel more positive about the retailer.

Our work with Asda for example (which, tellingly, is one of our most successful retail partnerships to date) saw us deliver a series of in-store seasonal hunts (across 400 stores). Shoppers had to find multiple floor stickers (Easter or Halloween themed) around the store in order to receive a prize, bringing an entirely new dimension to the shopping experience and enabling customers to engage with the retailer in a unique and unexpected way.

Augmented reality can also help extend brand reach, and present products to shoppers who might not usually buy from a particular retailer. At Churchill Square shopping centre in Brighton, for example, we helped deliver a virtual fashion show featuring garments available at outlets across the centre. This delivered product information and exclusive special offers to shoppers in real-time, driving engagement, footfall and sales across stores (all garments included in the AR fashion show sold out!).
We can collect additional data in near real time so we can give an insight into shopper behaviour. The figures don’t lie: average dwell time in a Zappar experience is over 75 seconds with a repeat zap rate of 2.8 times.

There are unique challenges to be overcome when implementing augmented initiatives on the shop floor - retail environments are often noisy, for example, so we use subtitles on the Zappar app to encourage shoppers to put their headphones on or turn their volume up. Similarly, larger shopping centres may have areas that don’t have the optimal 3G coverage required to bring augmented reality to life (but there is often good Wi-Fi).

Overcoming these challenges, however, can bring real dividends to retailers looking to better engage with customers, bring new dimensions to the in store experience and boost sales, and I am truly excited about the role that augmented reality is set to play in the future of the high street.

Want to find out more about this year’s augmented reality monster hunt we’re running with Asda for Halloween? Read more about this AR campaign on The Drum.