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GUEST ANALYSIS How Pokémon Go will actually change the customer experience

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Every man and his Charmander seem to have something to say about Pokémon Go. Is this a revolution that will bring augmented reality (AR) firmly into the mainstream? Or is it merely a fad offering a brief distraction from horrible news headlines?

Unfortunately nearly everyone has missed the point of Pokémon Go. And for retail, buying a couple of lures (in-game items that attract Pokémon and the players chasing them to your location) and ignoring the wider lessons of this phenomenon would be a big mistake.

This is much more than an AR story. There will be dozens of copycat AR apps from retail brands who think AR is a magic pill solution. Sadly it isn’t.

Nor is this simply an advertising story. When developers Niantic announced that they planned to monetise using “sponsored locations,” many brands jumped firmly onto the hype train. Yet if you want people to buy products from your store, you’ll need more than the prospect of a rare Pokémon being around.

What Pokémon Go actually represents is the next step in a fundamental shift in consumer behaviour, where the digital world and real world work together to provide a better, more fulfilling experience. And it is this crucial insight that will help retailers exploit this trend.

What Pokémon Go says about customer behaviour

Customers today don’t just want stuff – they want enjoyable experiences.

When getting a product delivered to you is as simple as a few taps on your smartphone, if you want people to shop on the high street you need more than just the products themselves. Shopping needs to be fun, exciting or relaxing, whichever the customer wants. It needs to be an experience they can share with their friends. It has to have a positive effect on their lives, to offset their worries about the negative effect on their purse.

But there is one part of this that retailers have been stuck on, that limits the time consumers spend shopping: how do you do this when shopping inevitably requires a lot of walking, browsing, queuing, carrying heavy bags and time? How can you make shopping fun, if it is mostly just looking at things?

Pokémon Go has taught us that it can be done. The game has been astonishingly effective at rewarding people for what, physically speaking, is just walking and swiping.

From the player’s perspective, a whole new world is opened up by the game. You discover new places and interesting quirks about your local area. For those ordinary streets and parks, they are now teeming with life, with Pokémon everywhere waiting to be seen on your augmented reality camera.

Niantic, the Pokémon Go developers, also did an excellent job of making every aspect of the experience fun. Game developers often emphasise the importance of “juice” – the auditory or visual feedback that makes a game satisfying to your senses. It’s the squish sound when you slice a fruit in Fruit Ninja, or the animation when your Pokéball successfully catches a Pokémon. These effects are carefully designed to delight your senses and motivate you to continue playing. And when you’ve got people travelling 95.1 miles over two weeks to catch all 142 Pokémon available in America, you need to build in enough juice to keep them entertained.

This isn’t just reserved for games. If you’re a retailer, your store space needs to be juicy enough that customers want to stick around. Product demonstrations, a pleasant ambiance, music, friendly and helpful staff, a place to eat nearby in case you get hungry are all great ways of satisfying the customer’s senses. Yet by bringing the digital world into the real world much like Pokémon Go has, you can unlock experiences and opportunities that could not practically exist in just one world or the other.

Enriching the store experience

Pokémon Go’s popularity won’t last forever. Like the original Pokémon games, it will fade away until only its loyal fan base is left. But the lessons it teaches us don’t have to disappear.

For retailers, this is a chance to rethink your store spaces – to use digital to make them smarter and to give them more juice.

Here are three things to think about:

How can you make your space smarter and juicier?

Your store isn’t confined to the physical dimensions of the space in front of you. Augmented reality experiences can make products come to life. Location tracking can help stores monitor the flow of customers through their stores and determine optimal product placements on the go. And a customer merely clicking a link in an email can share with the store staff detailed information on who they are and what they are looking for, making customer service even more seamless. When the digital world and real world work together, the possibilities truly are endless.

What infrastructure will I need to make this work? How will I collect the right data?

Creating smarter spaces isn’t without its challenges. You will need some infrastructure, like an in-store Wi-Fi network, to make the different components work and to collect the data you need to serve your customers. With Pokémon Go, it’s clear that customers are happy to share data on their location and interests if it provides them with a clear benefit, such as some addictive entertainment. The key is making sure that you, as a retailer, deliver that value exchange and capture all the data that you need.

How can I adapt to what the customer needs?

You won’t always get it perfectly right. Some augmented reality experiences have just been gimmicky and unnecessary. Take Google Glass, for instance, which created more problems than it solved with its privacy issues and low battery life. It can be difficult to pin down what customers really want. But if you collect the right data, you can adapt your setup to the latest trends. Holition, Garrard and Vogue saw a brilliant opportunity with the royal wedding to create a “magic mirror” featuring an augmented reality £100,000 diamond tiara, which proved to be very popular.

When something like Pokémon Go comes along and starts a craze of this magnitude, we should treat it as a chance to learn from its fame. Phenomena like this teach us about what consumers like, which we can use to evolve stores into something smarter that meets their needs better. That is the true revolution that Pokémon Go offers.

Robert McFarlane is head of labs at Head

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