Physical retail’s strength when compared to online shopping has always been the multi-sensory experience it delivers.

When it comes to hooking shoppers, there’s nothing like seeing, touching, and trying the products. But when touching is a no-go, like it has been for much of the past year, how can retailers deliver the same immersive experience that keeps customers coming back to the high street? New technology can facilitate creative solutions to build connections without contact. Could it be that retail’s biggest challenge is actually it’s biggest opportunity?

AR shopping 

Augmented Reality holds a world of infinite possibilities, allowing customers to interact with content or experiences from the safety of their own devices.

In Gucci’s AR campaign for their ‘Ace’ trainer range, customers selected their desired shoe via the brand’s app, then pointed their mobile device’s camera at their feet to ‘try on’ the selected pair – both virtually and securely.

ASOS took the AR experience a step further with their ‘Virtual Catwalk.’ Via the ASOS app, consumers are able to point their device at a flat surface and visualise their selected items on a 3D model that appears. This also allows choice for different size models, giving them an idea of how an item might fit their body shape.

AR experiences

AR merges traditional and digital advertising tactics to create an immersive experience for the consumer. If used correctly, the retail space itself can be transformed and changed in unimaginable and exciting ways. AR triggers can be embedded in the store to ensure exclusive interactions for customers.

A prime example of this is the Nike activation at Foot Locker’s Hollywood ‘House of Hoops’ which was created in partnership with Snapchat to welcome LeBron James to LA. Foot Locker had a larger than life mural painted in-store to act as the canvas for the AR experience. Snapchat users could point their devices at the art piece in store, and watch LeBron come to life and recreate one of his most iconic dunks as a Laker.

Gesture control

The challenge for in-store ‘no touch’ experiences is providing activations that involve the consumer in a physical and digital way. Motion capture technology might just be the answer.

McDonald’s used motion capture technology when promoting their ‘Maestro’ burger in Portugal. Passers-by could ‘conduct’ an orchestral tune with the burger utilising just their hands.

In another example, Jaguar produced a tennis app that enabled users to simulate hitting a ball with their smartphone for the chance to win tickets to Wimbledon. The experience combined personal devices’ gesture-recognition and motion-capture technology to deliver an engaging and fun way to enter a competition.

Finally, The Economist utilised a person’s motion capture to control a robot arm to hand out coffees to commuters on their rush to work. Through the wave of a hand the robot barista carefully poured a cup of Nespresso, adding an element of theatricality to the touch-free function.

Voice control

Consumers are already comfortable with voice-controlled tech in the home, so this is the perfect time to introduce it to stores too.

Coca Cola’s ‘Say Yes to a Coke No Sugar’ campaign took voice tech into the public domain. Passers-by were encouraged to shout ‘Yes’ at what looked like a normal sign in order to be rewarded with a chilled bottle of Coke No Sugar.

Showing that voice tech translates beyond FMCG, Mercedes-Benz combined voice control, motion capture and AR in a recent activation. Attendees to the US Open were asked to say, “Hey Mercedes, teach me to play like Sloane,” at which point, US tennis star Sloane Stephens appeared and delivered a quick AR tennis lesson.

Mirror, mirror 

Interactive panels and mirrors can further bring engaging AR into retail environments by providing customers with real-time evaluations of how a particular product will look. They can also use these ‘mirrors’ to communicate with store staff to request different sizes, colours or ask for alternative style suggestions.

In Zara’s flagship Westfield Stratford store, interactive mirrors equipped with RFID detect the item a customer is holding and make outfit suggestions, enabling customers to see what a complete outfit will look like in the mirror.

Another way of bringing this to life, Lululemon, the fitness apparel brand, recently purchased the hardware business ‘Mirror’, which allows users to exercise while simultaneously streaming workouts and watching themselves, seeking to build the brand’s community through placing AR at the heart of this.


With the increased awareness around virus transmission unlikely to leave consumer consciousness any time soon, people will continue to favour contact-free experiences or those that can be enjoyed from a distance. Technology gives us the tools to create engaging experiences for customers without breaking the touch barrier. There are so many exciting opportunities to be creative and the possibilities are only limited by imagination.

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